February 17, 2005

Spanish Language TV Coverage of the 2004 Campaigns

III. Local News Findings

At the local level, the significant differences found between Univision and Telemundo network news do not appear. As a result, the primary comparisons reported below are between Spanish- and English-language stations as groups. While comparisons are made between the three markets (New York, Los Angeles and Miami), comparisons between individual stations are not made. A larger and more detailed report with individual station comparisons about English-language coverage in 11 markets is available at www.localnewsarchive.org.

The primary finding at the local level is that on virtually every measure of quantity and quality of election coverage, English-language stations proved superior to Spanish-language stations. In many respects, however, these differences were in degree and not in direction. For example, local stations in both languages essentially abandoned local races in favor of the presidential contest and strategy stories were more prevalent than issues stories. As with the networks, local Spanish-language affiliates provided significantly more world affairs, and somewhat less Iraq news coverage, than the English-language affiliates. Also like the networks, the English-language affiliates ignored Latino issues in campaign stories.

A second notable finding is that at the local level, market appears to be as important or more important than language in the quantity and quality of election coverage. In many respects, the Spanish-language stations more closely resemble the English-language stations within their own market than they resemble Spanish-language stations in other markets. Clearly language accounts for some differences in election coverage, but overall these results suggest that where a station is located is as important as the language it broadcasts.

How much election coverage aired on local news?

A total of 2,724 stories were captured and analyzed in the three markets. Of these, 1,942 aired on the 12 English-language stations and 782 aired on the six Spanish-language stations. Of the three markets, Miami was the only one considered to be competitive in the presidential race. Florida also had a highly competitive race for the US Senate. As a result, 49 percent of all English-language campaign stories, and 43 percent of all Spanish-language campaign stories, aired in Miami.

In New York, Los Angeles and Miami, English-language stations devoted more news time to elections than Spanish-language stations. Election-focused news comprised 11.2 percent of all English-language news and 9.5 percent of all Spanish language news aired by local affiliates.

The amount of election coverage, however, varied significantly by market. In New York and Miami, the percentage of all news devoted to elections was almost identical regardless of language. Nine percent of all news captured on both English and Spanish-language stations in New York was devoted to elections. This means that a New York viewer would have seen 2 minutes 36 seconds of election coverage in a typical half-hour news broadcast in either English or Spanish. In Miami, the English-language stations devoted slightly more of their news to elections (15 percent) than the Spanish-language stations (14 percent). This equals four minutes 37 seconds of election coverage in a typical English-language broadcast and four minutes five seconds in a typical Spanish-language broadcast. In Los Angeles, the English-language stations devoted nine percent of their news time to elections, compared to just six percent on the Spanish-language stations. English-language viewers in Los Angeles would therefore see an average of two minutes 43 seconds of coverage in a typical broadcast, compared to one minute 54 seconds on a typical Spanish-language broadcast.

What races got covered on local news?

The large majority of all local news coverage centered on the presidential race. Sixty-four percent of the English-language stories and 67 percent of the Spanish-language stories focused on the presidential race. Just six percent of the English-language stories and three percent of the Spanish-language stories focused on local races, such as those for the U.S. House, State Senate, State Assembly, mayor, courts, law enforcement, education-related offices and other regional offices.

Despite the fact that the Miami market was significantly more competitive at the top of the ticket than New York or Los Angeles, most of the local race coverage in both languages came from Miami. Out of a total of 107 English-language stories about local races, 70 percent aired in Miami. Similarly, out of the 26 Spanish-language stories about local races, 73 percent aired in Miami. Much of this was driven by coverage of the Miami mayoral race, which accounted for about 20 percent of all English-language stories about local races, but 65 percent of all Spanish-language stories about local races.

The English-language stations devoted four percent of their election coverage to ballot and bond initiatives. The Spanish-language stations were virtually identical, devoting five percent of their coverage to ballot or bond initiatives. As with local race coverage, most of this coverage aired in a single market–in this case, Los Angeles, which aired 71 percent of ballot or bond initiative stories in both languages. Virtually all of this coverage centered on statewide propositions such as those concerning stem-cell research and amendments to the three-strikes law.

While local stations in both languages largely failed to cover local races, in general they did provide a fair amount of coverage about voting issues, such as polling locations, registration procedures and the potential for voting irregularities. Nineteen percent of all English-language stories and 21 percent of all Spanish-language stories focused on voting issues. Once again there were differences by market, although in a slightly different pattern. In Los Angeles and New York, the Spanish-language stations aired more stories about voting issues than the English-language stations. Just ten percent of the English-language stories in Los Angeles focused on voting issues. By contrast, 33 percent of the Spanish-language stories in Los Angeles focused on voting issues. In New York, 11 percent of the English-language and 19 percent of the Spanish-language stories focused on voting issues. The breakdown in Miami was reversed, as 27 percent of the English-language stories focused on voting issues compared to 17 percent of the Spanish-language stories.

How did local stations frame election coverage?

Across markets and languages, stories focusing on strategy or the horserace outnumbered stories focusing on issues. Overall, forty-five percent of the English-language stories, and 53 percent of the Spanish-language stories, focused on strategy or the horserace. Thirty percent of the English-language stories, and 21 percent of the Spanish-language stories, focused on issues.

The 15 percentage point gap in favor of strategy/horserace stories was remarkably consistent across all markets on English-language stations. In New York the gap was exactly 15 percentage points, in Miami it was 16 percentage points and in Los Angeles it was 14 percentage points. This consistency did not appear on Spanish-language stations. In Los Angeles, strategy/horserace stories on Spanish-language stations outnumbered issues stories by 17 percentage points, or just slightly more than the English-language stations.1 In New York, the gap was 31 percentage points, and in Miami it was 42 percentage points.

How long were election stories on local news?

The average length of an English-language story was one minute 43 seconds. The average length of a Spanish-language story was one minute 18 seconds. Los Angeles had the lowest average story length in both Spanish and English. An average English-language story in Los Angeles was one minute 38 seconds, while an average Spanish-language story in Los Angeles was just one minute seven seconds. New York ranked second in average story length in both languages, with an English-language average of one minute 44 seconds, and a Spanish-language average of one minute 21 seconds. Miami had the longest average story length in both languages, although Miami stories were only slightly longer than those in New York. An average English-language story in Miami was one minute 45 seconds, compared to one minute 23 seconds on Miami’s Spanish-language stations.

How long were candidate soundbites on local news?

The average length of a candidate soundbite on the English-language stations was 12 seconds, compared to 10 seconds for an average Spanish-language soundbite. Overall the difference between markets was quite small; no more than five seconds separated the highest market from the lowest in either language. Even so, the same type of market consistency appears. In both languages, Miami had the highest average soundbite, followed by Los Angeles and then New York.

A different pattern appears when we compare the percentage of election stories that contained at least one soundbite. Around 40 percent of stories on English-language stations in New York and Los Angeles contained at least one candidate soundbite. In both markets this was significantly higher than the Spanish-language stations. Just six percent of the Spanish-language stations in Los Angeles, and 12 percent of the Spanish-language stories in New York, contained a candidate soundbite. In Miami, the differences were less dramatic. Twenty-five percent of the English-language stories contained a soundbite, compared to 19 percent of the Spanish-language stories.

What other differences were there between English- and Spanish-language local news?

As at the network level, local English-language news broadcasts ignored Latino issues in their election stories. Only around two-and-a-half percent of all English-language stories mentioned Latino issues. By contrast, 31 percent of the Spanish-language stories mentioned Latino issues. These percentages were fairly consistent across markets.

Just as Spanish-language networks aired significantly more world affairs than English-language networks, the same difference held true at the local level. Similarly, local English-language stations aired somewhat more coverage of the Iraq War, although Iraq was generally ignored by local stations in both languages. Less than one percent of the English-language local news focused on world affairs. By contrast, seven percent of Spanish-language local news focused on world affairs. Less than one-and-one-half percent of the English-language local news focused on the Iraq War, and just one-half of one percent of Spanish-language local news focused on the Iraq war. There were only slight variations in these percentages across market. This means that a typical English-language local news broadcast contained just 17 seconds of world affairs coverage, while a typical Spanish-language local broadcast devoted one minute 44 seconds to world affairs. A typical English-language local broadcast contained 25 seconds of Iraq war coverage, compared to just ten seconds in a typical Spanish-language local broadcast.
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  1. As noted earlier, 33 percent of the stories captured on Los Angeles Spanish-language stations focused on voting issues. This was significantly higher than other markets. In general, voting issue stories did not focus on either strategy or issues and were coded as “other.” As a result, the high number of voting issue stories aired on the Los Angeles Spanish-language stations may help explain why Los Angeles differs from other markets.