In key election year, newsrooms have opportunity to grow trust with AAPI audiences

AAJA Research Roundtable Highlights AAPIs As Audiences, Consumers And Voters Who View News As Crucial To Democracy, Despite Low Trust In News; Confirms The Structural Barriers To Diversifying Newsroom Leadership And Coverage

Two new research reports produced by the Asian American Journalists Association and its partners give a granular look into the evolving news consumption habits of communities of color as well as the structural obstacles facing journalists of color. 

The findings, previewed on April 26 at an AAJA Research Roundtable powered by The Asian American Foundation (TAAF), shed light on the challenges and opportunities of informing different communities in our increasingly diverse democracy, ahead of what is likely to be a closely contested election.

The Trusted Messengers and Priority Audiences Report found that while younger respondents are much more likely than their older counterparts to get news from social media, they still trust news organizations, family and friends, and experts far more than influencers or celebrities.

The second report, entitled Breaking Through: Overcoming Structural Barriers for Journalists of Color, went directly to journalists of color to ask about their newsroom experience, avoiding the dead end of newsrooms refusing to participate in diversity surveys. Respondents reported structural obstacles at many different career stages, and some said they would have left the field without the support of mentors and professional associations.

The two journalism-centered reports were among several shared at the roundtable, which highlighted the fact that a body of research on Asian American Pacific Islander communities is finally emerging, after years when AAPIs have felt invisible or were lumped together into a single category, despite national origins from more than 20 countries across Asia and the Pacific. 

The Pew Research Center is leading the way by investing tens of millions of dollars in a series of reports that provide an unprecedented amount of data on Asian Americans, including the fact that 10% live in poverty, despite the “model minority” myth. Nielsen, for its part, emphasizes that AAPIs have $1.3 trillion in buying power, and two-thirds will stop buying from brands that devalue their community. 

TAAF also previewed key findings from its 2024 STAATUS Index, which revealed among other things that 52% of Americans can’t name a prominent Asian American. There are close to 25 million AAPIs in the U.S., where they are the fastest growing ethnic group.  

“In advocacy, you can’t make change if you can’t measure it,” said AAJA Executive Director Naomi Tacuyan Underwood. “We need more research like this that underlines the importance of AAPIs as audiences, consumers and voters through accurate, disaggregated data.” 

The Trusted Messengers report was produced by AAPI DataAPIAVote, and AAJA, and draws on Amplify AAPI at NORC at the University of Chicago, the only public opinion panel of its kind that is multilingual and able to generate estimates of 6 Asian American subgroups as well as Pacific Islanders.

The findings shared at the roundtable were based on the first two of three rounds of surveys. They include:

      • News still matters, including TV news, with two out of three respondents saying media is very or critically important to democracy. 
      • News media favorability is low, especially among younger respondents. And a majority believe social media and cable news are making democracy worse.
      • Ethnic/community media still plays an important role in how respondents choose to stay informed.
      • The younger the respondents, the more they value diversity in news coverage, staffing, and viewpoints.

There were more similarities than differences in the responses among communities of color, with all groups reporting that political parties, family and friends, and mainstream media are their top sources of news and information that could guide voting. Black respondents also put community groups among their main sources of voting news and information.

For news and information about life and social issues, AAPIs put the most trust in friends and family, professors and academic experts, and journalists from their community – and the least in sports personalities, celebrities, social media influencers and shock jock-type provocateurs. All  racial groups put the same four categories at the bottom.

Younger respondents have the lowest levels of trust in news media, but they haven’t shifted that trust to social media influencers, meaning news organizations still have an important role to play. Trust in a news outlet is boosted by fact-checking and reputation for all groups, and especially for AAPIs. 

The findings underline the importance of a diverse press corps to inform citizens in a multicultural democracy, yet that hasn’t translated into a smooth road for journalists of color. The second AAJA report, led by Rapid Research Evaluation and supported by TAAF, surveyed 549 working media professionals and followed up with 37 for focus groups and one-on-one interviews.

      • A majority of respondents agree that their organization treats them with respect, that they feel they belong, and their organizations are becoming more equitable and inclusive places to work.
      • Yet more than half don’t think their organizations are achieving sufficient racial diversity, showing a significant gap between personal and institutional progress.
      • Structural obstacles include barriers to entry, pay inequity, and blocks to upward mobility. Gains in hiring since 2020 have been rolled back by layoffs.
      • Solutions need to be both structural and personal. Organizations need to address pay inequity and obstacles to leadership. Mentors and professional associations also play an important role.

The focus groups and interviews deepened the insights. Respondents note how hard it is to launch a career when some internships pay nothing and entry-level jobs in journalism pay so little that anyone with student debt can’t afford them. This deprives journalism of people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, disproportionately people of color. 

At higher levels, respondents report pay disparities they perceive as related to race. And several journalists of color report needing to be “overqualified” to get their jobs. Mentorship, sponsorship, and support from professional associations such as AAJA were described as being essential to stay in the field.

“AAJA focused on journalism research because it’s an industry that demands accountability and transparency but is often not transparent itself, especially on progress building newsrooms that reflect the communities they serve,” Tacuyan Underwood added. “We’ve identified concrete opportunities for the industry to do better.”

After this preview of key findings, AAJA will release both reports ahead of its National Convention August 7-11, 2024 in Austin, Texas. 

The Asian American Journalists Association is a professional membership association founded in 1981. Since its founding, AAJA has been at the forefront of change in the journalism industry, advocating for accurate, comprehensive and fair coverage of the AAPI community. We champion the development of AAPI representation and leadership in journalism through trainings, opportunities and resources for our members as well as through nurturing and maintaining a network and community of AAPI journalists globally. Learn more at or follow us on Twitter @AAJA.

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