If you see Hispanics on local TV news in Denver, you’re most likely watching a story about crime

by Michael Lund

By now we’re all aware the pivotal role Hispanics will play in swing states (like Colorado) in November’s election.  As the political parties strategize and tune their message machines to reach Hispanics in Colorado and secure their votes, we wondered how well Denver’s English language TV news broadcasts cover Hispanic issues.

To do this, the BigMediaBlog designed a snapshot survey of Denver’s local television news broadcasts. We monitored the amount and type of coverage that included Hispanics on all four local stations:  CBS 4, KMGH 7, KUSA 9, and KVDR 31.

What we found can be classified as Good News/Bad News.  Here are the highlights of each:

Good news

  • Hispanic reporters and anchors bring a welcome element of diversity and familiarity to Hispanic viewers. These include anchors Anne Trujillo (Channel 7 news, on vacation during our snapshot study period) and Dave Aguilera (CBS 4), and reporters Tammy Vigil, Melody Mendez, Nina Sporano (FOX 31), Dominic Garcia (CBS 4), and Valerie Castro (CBS4).  There are others, of course, but the aforementioned are those who appeared during the window of our study.
  • Hispanics are featured in some local news coverage, representing our community across a range of topics (news, sports, weather, health, government, economic and business, public works, education, elections, labor, etc.).
  • In news stories covering issues of shared interest and value to Hispanic and general audiences, coverage sometimes includes a Hispanic perspective.  For example, jobs and the economy are issues consistently highlighted by the Hispanic electorate and voters in general as being important to them in this election cycle.  In our snapshot survey, one story in particular stood out that qualified in this category:  Walmart’s opening of 5 neighborhood markets, bringing  new jobs to Denver.  While all four channels covered this story, only Fox31 expanded the story to interview job seekers, Hispanics included, and explored the relation and importance of the story to these individuals’ lives and job searches.  Their input made the story immediately more relevant and vital to an otherwise underrepresented population of TV news consumers.

Bad news

  • In our study, crime stories dominate Hispanic related news, accounting for 60% of news stories that involve Hispanics.  These stories generally offer little to inform and engage the public and Hispanic populations, and often displace other stories on issues with equal or greater importance to our communities.  During the three days we were viewing, the predominant crime stories involved the murder of a clerk during a robbery of an auto parts store, escapees from a federal prison, and at least two cases of child abuse and negligence.   While crime trends might rate as important, these particular cases certainly were not highlighted as issues of reigning importance among Hispanics during this election cycle.  The economy was, however, and the only related story we found, excluding economic stories reported by Hispanic journalists, was the Walmart piece referenced above.
  • The Hispanic community is misrepresented by an over-emphasis of crime.  In fact, when pictured in news stories, 38% of the time Hispanics were the accused or perpetrator in the story, as opposed to the reporter, a witness, a commentator, or a sympathetic subject.  Again, the proportion of Hispanic criminals to law-abiding Hispanics is grossly misrepresented by this figure, and alerts us to a need for more balanced coverage.
  • Proportionately little time of a news broadcast is dedicated to covering Hispanic issues.  Excluding crime stories and weather and sports segments, Hispanic news accounts for just under 6% (on average) of the entire news coverage.  Obviously, to be representational of our Hispanic community in Denver, more substantive and engaging coverage of Hispanic news stories is needed.

This survey is a snapshot and as such gives a only a small glimpse of successes and areas for improvement in covering the people and the issues of priority to Hispanics, which often overlap with the composite population.  Hopefully, this study will at least serve to reflect on how our state and its citizens are portrayed during the upcoming election season, with our added notoriety and visibility as a swing state.  And more importantly, we hope that it reminds us all of the importance of an engaged and informed electorate, Hispanics and all voters alike.

Click here to view the data (stories, reporters, categories) upon which the snapshot study is based: Hispanics in Denver Local TV News

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