Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Report: Asian Americans underrepresented on local TV news

“As journalism evolves, newsrooms cannot afford to overlook AAPI communities.”
TV production equipment.

Story at a glance

  • Only four or the top 20 designated market areas for local news had proportional representations of on-air AAPI journalists reflective of their local communities. 

  • These included Phoenix, Ariz. and Miami, Fla.

  • Philadelphia, Pa. and Detroit, Mich. were among the bottom four in proportional representation of on-air AAPI staff.

Asia American Pacific Islander (AAPI) journalists are underrepresented in local TV news across the country, according to findings of a new report from the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). 

Researchers compared the demographics of the top 20 designated market areas (DMAs) in the country with the number of AAPI reporters, anchors, meteorologists, hosts, and on-air individuals working in the areas’ local television newsrooms.

Although 48 percent of the AAPI population lives within these DMAs, 24 percent of the stations had no on-air AAPI reporters. 

Over 70 percent of stations lacked on-air staff proportional to the AAPI residents in their DMA, while only Phoenix, Ariz.; Denver, Colo.; Miami, Fla. and Cleveland, Ohio had proportional representation on their networks. 

In comparison, Philadelphia, Pa.; Detroit, Mich. and Orlando, Fla. fared worst in this metric. 

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The study was carried out between July and September 2021. In the snapshot report, there were 201 on-air AAPI staffers across the top 20 DMAs, which are home to an AAPI population of 11.5 million. 

“As journalism evolves, newsrooms cannot afford to overlook AAPI communities,” researchers wrote in the report. 

“On-air representation matters to audiences, and newsrooms must reflect the diversity of the communities they cover, not only to ensure that the totality of their communities’ experiences are captured in their editorial process, but also to build trust and engagement with audiences.” 

Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in the country, growing by 81 percent between 2000 and 2019. In 2019, the demographic had a buying power of $1 trillion, “making for a lucrative audience for new platforms, content, and advertising,” researchers said. 

Proportional representation of AAPI journalists is also crucial in light of increasing anti-Asian violence and xenophobia. 

Data from Stop AAPI Hate show one in six Asian American adults reported experiencing a hate crime or incident in 2021, an increase from one in eight who said the same in 2020. 

In the report, authors detailed their “disappointing and surprising” efforts to compile data from local news stations. “Only seven of the 94 stations responded in a timely manner over two months to a request to either confirm or correct the data AAJA collected,” they wrote, adding that while many newsrooms claim to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion, their lack of transparency suggests otherwise.

Researchers recommend stations looking to change evaluate how they can improve recruitment and retention of more journalists of color and provide equitable coverage of growing communities.

Local TV news consistently ranks as one of the most trusted news sources in the country, while on-air staffers are the most visible employees at these stations. Previous research has also documented an underrepresentation of Hispanic workers in the media. 

To best represent and serve local communities, people in newsrooms should look like people in their communities, AAJA authors wrote. 

“Representation matters especially for many AAPI communities who are marginalized and whose stories often are not told with the nuance and complexity they deserve. Seeing AAPI reporters and anchors deliver the top stories of the day provides a human face for underrepresented communities and offers a sense of connection for AAPI viewers.”