Uniting Idaho: A Small Newspaper Serves Hispanic Populations in Distributed Rural Areas

Article excerpt


The mass media are agencies for the development of cultural perspectives for ethnic groups in the United States (Rios & Gaines, 1998, p. 746). Among the fastest-growing minority ethnic populations are Hispanics, who account for approximately 13.3 percent of Americans. Minority populations want, need and deserve to be heard, addressed and represented in the mass media's "marketplace of ideas" (Carveth & Alverio, 1996; Rodgers, 1999; Rodgers & Thorson, 1999), and while the media landscape is steadily evolving to better meet the needs of the growing Hispanic population, often overlooked are those Hispanics who do not reside in large metropolitan areas or states along the U.S.-Mexico border. Between 1990 and 2000, Hispanics led non-metro minority population growth. "Three out of every four States posted non-metro Hispanic population gains of 50 percent or more, and almost half posted gains of over 100 percent" (Economic Research Service, 2002). Despite the widespread increase of Hispanic populations in rural areas, local media have been slow to accommodate the needs of this newer demographic segment.

One state with a surprisingly large Hispanic population is Idaho. This northwestern state is eight percent Hispanic overall--seven percent Hispanic in its non-metro population--and expected to be 11.8 percent Hispanic by 2025 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2004).

Given declining newspaper circulation and rising production costs in the American newspaper industry, it is notable when a publisher perceives a niche adequate to motivate a new market entry. This study investigates the establishment and operation of Idaho Unido, a bilingual biweekly publication serving Idaho's Hispanic population. This case history compares the newspaper with established concepts of media roles and financing, and it examines how a small ethnic newspaper attempts to serve a widely distributed, largely rural Hispanic population. The following research questions are addressed:

RQ1. Does the motivation to create a Spanish-language newspaper adhere to an established theory of the press?

RQ2. Could Idaho Unido serve as a successful model for Spanish-language newspapers serving widely distributed, largely rural Hispanic populations?

Literature Review

The use of literature in an interpretive study varies somewhat from that typically found in research adopting positivistic perspectives. As further described in the methodology section, Idaho Unido is offered as a revelatory case study and as such does not constitute testing of theory in the traditional sense. Rather, the researcher's acknowledgement of theory serves to inform the reader of prior understandings or biases that may color the interpretation of case data. That said, two primary streams of research provided the conceptual perspective shaping the development of this case: role of the press in cultural maintenance and general theories of the organization of the press function in society.

Cultural maintenance literature provides some understanding of the role mass media play in supporting ethnic identification, creating a sense of community and supporting cultural ties. The literature indicates that readers seek newspapers for local, relevant information and to support cultural identity (Jeffres, 1983; Jeffres, 2000; Maddox, 1984; Marquez, 1993). That there is a link between media and culture is substantiated by research indicating that mass media can be used to promote acculturation or assimilation into the dominant culture or to preserve a subculture, strengthening its identity and protecting it from being absorbed into the mainstream. Marzolf (1979) found media to be vehicles for learning about and accommodating to the host society. Although his study concerned foreign students, a parallel principle may apply to the setting of Hispanic subcultures in America who may desire varying degrees of acculturation. …