News Leadership 3.0

July 07, 2009

Among ethnic groups, the digital divide narrows

In a guest post, Craig Matsuda says that among Asian Americans and English-speaking Latinos, Internet access is as high as that of whites in the United States. It’s important to think about different usage among ethnic and age groups.

imageCraig Matsuda, a longtime editor at The Los Angeles Times and now a consultant, coordinated Knight Digital Media Center’s recent conference, “Transforming Ethnic News Organizations for the Digital Now,” in partnership with New America Media and the McCormick Foundation, in Atlanta last month. In the process, Craig learned a lot about media usage by different ethnic and age groups. I have asked Craig to share what he learned in a series of guest posts that starts today.

By Craig Matsuda

Don’t underestimate the online presence of communities of color.

While concerns about the digital divide are justified, the gap is narrowing, especially among Asian Americans and English-speaking Latinos, whose Internet access at least matches that of whites in the United States.

Age, economics and geography, of course, still play huge roles in determining - and often limiting—the online participation of ethnic groups and communities of color. That means there’s a lag in net access for African Americans and Latinos whose chief language is Spanish. It’s also true for poor, rural or older people in ethnic or minority communities.

But changes in technology, particularly advances in mobile devices and Wi-Fi connectivity, are combining with other factors to give new energy and a boost to communities of color online.

I researched this issue for a presentation to ethnic media leaders last month at “Transforming Ethnic News Organizations for the Digital Now.”

My sources include Arbitron, the Florida State University Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication, the National Ad Council, the Pew Internet and American Life Project and Scarborough. (For links to research articles, see below.)

For starters, it’s key to know that, in general:

- African Americans are a big population with a growing gray segment and with age- and economic-differences in technology use

- Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups, one which skews young and in which economics, language (mostly English- or Spanish-speaking) and assimilation are key tech considerations.
- Asian Americans are a fast growing group, which also skews young and which works particularly well with technology

More than 70 percent of English speaking Latinos, Asians and African Americans told FSU researchers in 2008 that they have higher-cost high-speed access; just under 50 percent of Spanish-speaking Latinos said they do. Those rates match those of majority populations surveyed.

Meantime, Latinos, as group, have turned to cell phones and rely on them very heavily to: surf the web for information, text message, download and find and listen to music and watch videos, studies show.

Asian Americans, who also are heavy cell phone users, are on-the-go online folks, too, in a different way: They rely more than other ethnic groups on laptops and Wi-Fi for cyber connection.

While two-thirds of African Americans asked said they own a cell phone, they don’t use them as much as Latinos or Asians do for web connection, text messaging and downloading.

Latinos, both those who speak mostly English and those whose principle language is Spanish, have become enthusiastic web site owners and bloggers, as have Asian Americans. More than 35% of Spanish-speaking Latinos said in one study that they own a web site; one in five Asians and Latinos said they blog. Those of the immigrant generation, researchers say, likely are using these tools to share lives online with distant families.

Asian Americans, Latinos and African Americans also are big buyers and users of digital cameras and video cameras, especially when those tools come aboard cell phones.

All three groups, at rates higher even than majority populations, participate regularly on social media.

As mentioned, there are not only differences in technology use among members of the various group by language facility, economics and degree of assimilation, age also is a discernible factor: more than half of the Latinos on the net are younger than 35 (versus 35% of the general population; in African Americans, lower net access and application occurs among the older and poorer.

Still, to get a clue about the potential of these groups, which are often ignored if not shunned by traditional media, consider this: In an elite marketing segment of those with high affluence and highest tech savvy—a niche of young, urban, educated young men—there’s a disproportionate representation of Asians and English-speaking Latinos.

Part 2: Ethnic news leaders embrace online media.
Part 3: Ethnic media organizations face formidable challenges

To read more and to see where elements of this post came from, here are research links:

- “Online Technology Ownership 2008,” Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University

- “The Brave New World of an Emerging Diverse Online Majority,” Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University

- “The Multicultural World of Social Media Marketing,” HispanicOnlineMarketing.com

- “Internet Usage Among Minorities and Low-income Communities,” (See Lee Rainey, Gretchen Livingston presentations for National Ad Council)

- “Home Broadband Adoption 2008,” Pew Internet

- “Mobile Access to Data and Information,” March 2008, Pew Internet

- “Adults and social network websites,” Pew Internet

- “Hispanic Fact Pack: 2008 Annual Guide to Hispanic Marketing and Media,” Ad Age

- “Hispanic Radio Today (2008),” “Black Radio Today (2008),”Urban Radio (2007),” “Black Consumer Study (2006),” Abritron

- “The Power of the Hispanic Consumer Online (2008),” Scarborough

- “Understanding the Digital Savvy Consumer (2008),” Scarborough

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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