Understanding Ethnic Media: Producers, Consumers, and Societies

Article excerpt

Matsaganis, Matthew D., Vikki S. Katz, and Sandra J. Ball-Rokeach, (2011). Understanding Ethnic Media: Producers, Consumers, and Societies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. pp. 314.

Press theory can be complex: Who does or should the press serve? What informs it? What sustains it? What goals drive it? In a classic essay published 1918, Hilaire Beloc, the Catholic apologist, described the press as capitalist in origin, evolution, and effect. Beloc wrote of "the evil of the great modern Capitalist Press, its function in vitiating and misinforming opinion and in putting power into ignoble hands." In the same breath, he offered "its correction by the formation of small independent organs, and the probably increasing effect of these last" (p. 1).

That "correction" may have emerged nearly a century later in the form of a colorful ethnic press. Today in the United States live 57 million "ethnic adult" consumers who patronize some 3,000 ethnic media outlets, according to New America Media, a San Francisco-based advocacy group. Ethnic-specific programming represents the "fastest growing sector of American journalism" because of the quickly diversifying demographic profile of many urban areas. It offers a counterweight to what critics such as Noam Chomsky and Robert McChesney have observed: that America's mainstream press is positioned to apologize for the plutocracy of a few media Goliaths, rather than to speak for any underdog.

In the complex milieu of press theory do Matsaganis and his fellow authors situate the ethnic press. But two quick observations: First, the book presents, for the most part, a study of media, not press. To this reviewer, "media" suggests that the authors envisaged an institutional role that includes entertainment and socialization compared to "the press," an institution of politics that tends to either operationalize a Meiklejohnian selfrule or advance the state.

Second, the term "ethnic" is loaded in many ways. Using the term can reflect a patronizing attitude in neo-dominant culture toward older and local traditions. It can connote a distinction, and hence exclusion, of the local in cuisine, clothing, and festivity from the presumed sophistication of an emerging mainstream. Ethnic can mean, as Merriam-Webster offers in its first definition, "heathen," who is an "unconverted" or "uncivilized or irreligious person." In this book, the authors do well to eschew stereotypical judgment. They "define ethnic media broadly to include media by and for (a) immigrants, (b) ethnic, racial, and linguistic minorities, as well as (c) indigenous populations across different parts of the world" (p. xiii). They offer a succinct explication of that definition in chapters 1 and 2, emphasizing geographic context, roles of ethnic media, and a quick historical overview of the ethnic press in Europe, America (including Native American and Chinese press), and Mexico.

The book offers a rich smorgasbord of discussion, covering immigrants' media, minorities' media, audience trends, ethnic media organizations, and policy development. Its eleven chapters and 314 pages present,

...a far-reaching review and analysis of how ethnic media affect ongoing negotiations of self-identity, perceived lines of division between "us" and "others," and how the production and consumption of ethnic media affects the character of the larger media and societal landscape (p. xiii).

It presents the ethnic press, mostly in America but also in Mexico, France, and Canada, as not only a reflection but also a catalyst of societies that are rapidly heterogenizing by race, language, and national origin.

The book includes twenty-five pages of references, six pages of author index, and fourteen pages of subject index. In addition to old-fashioned tables, attractive graphic elements jazz up the pages. A very useful "chapter objectives" section precedes every chapter, and thoughtful sections titled "summary," "study questions" (or "case analysis questions"), and "notes" conclude every chapter. …