Bringing News to a Diverse Community
By Heather Brown, Emily Guskin and Amy Mitchell of PEJ
If it were just a matter of population growth, the story of the Arab-American media would be a simple tale of opportunity. Over the last decade, Arab Americans have become one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States.
But the story of the media trying to serve that audience is more complicated than that: The Arab-American population across the United States is ethnically diverse. Arab-American media are being buffeted by the same technology and economic trends as the news media generally, as well as a more challenging advertising market. And, advancements in technology have brought new competition from Arab outlets located in the Middle East and North Africa.
Overall, the current Arab-American news media are relatively young. Newspapers and news websites are currently the most prominent sector, with much of the coverage focused on community news and events. There is also coverage at the national level, though, and recently, the Arab uprisings have given rise to more international coverage of news from "back home."
While there is little solid data for this media sector, PEJ's independent research, content audits and numerous interviews reveal clear trends in Arab-American news media.
A number of papers are seeing rising circulation. Some new publications have even launched. However, most papers are still struggling to recover financially from the economic recession of 2007 and at the same time keep up with the trends in digital technology and social media.
The story is more challenging for radio. Overall, radio programming aimed at Arab Americans is declining in the face of even more limited advertising revenue. For one radio program, sponsorship from a few individuals within the Arab-American community is enabling market expansion, but it is unclear if this is an industry-wide solution. Other outlets are increasing their audio content online, averting the high costs of broadcasting on air altogether.
Arab-American television news remains almost nonexistent. And now, interested viewers can turn to satellite programming and online television from Arab countries.
The recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have created some new opportunities for Arab-American media, particularly as attention to that subject by the mainstream media faded.
Social media also played an important part in the uprisings. New research suggests that the primary role was in spreading news outside of the region, connecting a global audience to the events through tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. This has not been entirely positive for Arab-American news media, as their audiences are now presented with an abundance of alternative sources of information online.