AAJA: Nearly a quarter of TV stations in top U.S. markets have zero AAPIs on air

Local TV stations in the top 20 designated market areas (DMAs) did a poor job proportionately representing the AAPI population in their communities, according to preliminary findings of the new analysis announced on May 4 by the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA).

Nearly half (48.3%) of the AAPI population in the U.S. lives in the top 20 DMAs, yet a quarter of the stations had no AAPIs on air. 

The project found that:

  • A quarter of the stations (22 out of 94) had no AAPIs on-air.
  • More than 70 percent (70) of the stations did not have a proportion of on-air staff comparable with the AAPI population in their DMA.
  • Only 4 out of 20 of the DMAs had on-air staff comparable with their local AAPI population: Phoenix, Denver, Miami, and Cleveland.
  • Philadelphia, Detroit, and Orlando were the markets with the least proportionate AAPI representation on air. 

AAJA examined AAPI representation across major metropolitan areas by comparing the demographics of the top 20 TV media markets, which include cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago, with the proportion of AAPI on-air staff at the stations. 

AAJA initiated this broadcast snapshot in the absence of publicly available diversity data from stations. The project builds on AAJA’s mission to advance diversity in newsrooms and ensure fair and accurate coverage of communities of color. 

As journalism evolves, newsrooms cannot afford to overlook AAPI communities. 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 is captured in their editorial process but also to build trust with and engage with audiences. With the population of the U.S. becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, diverse and inclusive hiring, news gathering and reporting is also a smart foundational business practice that newsrooms cannot ignore.

Recent data from Nielsen reveals that the Asian American population in the U.S. has grown to 23 million, a 90% growth since 2000. In 2019, the buying power for this group was $1 trillion, a 314% jump since 2000. That growth was nearly three times greater than the general U.S. population, and the increase in buying power of Asian Americans is projected to keep outpacing total U.S. buying power. The average household expenditure for Asian Americans is 18% higher than that of the national population, and Asian Americans overindex on spending on major consumer categories, making for a lucrative audience for new platforms, content, and advertising.

While the project is a snapshot in time, the lack of representation in local TV newsrooms is a historical and structural problem that needs to be addressed. Making sure AAPI communities are covered accurately is critical, but even more at a time when many are on edge from increased anti-Asian violence and xenophobia. Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that gathers data on anti-AAPI xenophobia, logged more than 10,000 anti-Asian incidents since March of 2020. 

AAJA is committed to improving media diversity beyond the numbers. This broadcast snapshot provides a baseline of data for AAJA to continue advocating for diversity. In addition, AAJA acknowledges that regardless of numbers, AAPI journalists and journalists of color are also likely to experience implicit biases, microaggressions and pay and gender inequity in their workplaces.

Representation is crucial to accurate and nuanced coverage. For decades, AAJA members — especially those in broadcast — have been told that they were too close to stories affecting the AAPI community because of their identity. During the March 2021 Atlanta shootings, AAJA members reported being asked, “Are you sure your bias won’t show if you cover the Atlanta shootings?” or told, “You might be too emotionally invested to cover this story.” 

AAPI journalists are oftentimes uniquely positioned to cover AAPI communities and stories because of their expertise, cultural understanding, language proficiency and unfettered access to sources. On the other hand, when AAJA members are the only or one of the very few AAPIs in the newsrooms, they are expected to carry the burden of speaking for or representing on behalf of all AAPI communities. Newsroom leaders must acknowledge this conflicting duality and empower and support their AAPI reporters.

AAJA focused on on-air staff as a measure of AAPI representation due to the availability and visibility of information. From July to September 2021, AAJA staff and member volunteers surveyed 94 local, English-language commercial TV stations in the top 20 DMAs. Project staff used resources such as station websites, AAJA membership and public pages to find on-air staff who either looked AAPI or self-identified as AAPI. Information collected included the number of AAPI on-air staff, the AAPI population and station ownership. This snapshot revealed a total of 201 AAPI on-air staffers across the top 20 DMAs. 

AAJA will release the full broadcast snapshot later this year. It will be used as a benchmark to track future progress at these commercial television newsrooms. Through this work, AAJA hopes to spark productive dialogues that lead to concrete steps in increasing AAPI representation in local TV newsrooms.

(AAJA Media Contact: Waliya Lari, Director of Programs and Partnerships, waliyal@aaja.org)