Iowa Alumni Magazine | August 2007 | People

Fair and Balanced: Dina Gavrilos

By Kelly Stavnes
Dina Gavrilos In a study she helped conduct for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Dina Gavrilos found that the U.S. media lacks coverage of issues affecting the average Latino.

One news magazine features the powerful rise of Los Angeles' new Latino mayor. Another publication highlights an article about government efforts to stop poor, illegal immigrants from crossing the border. As for covering the average, hardworking Latino citizen, a UI alumna's research suggests that American journalists just don't seem interested.

Dina Gavrilos, 03PhD, an assistant journalism professor at the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, recently conducted a critique of three major U.S. news magazines for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. With a team of graduate students, she analyzed Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report to better understand how the media portrays the country's largest minority group.

The results disappointed her. Not only do these publications seldom take up Latino issues, but Gavrilos found that when they do, they focus on the rich and the poor. However, the majority of Latinos fall outside either camp; they are simply regular people trying to make a life for themselves and their families.

Out of 1,547 stories that these magazines published in 2005, only 18 (1.2 percent) covered Latinos -- and 12 of them reflected negative images about immigration. The imbalance makes it difficult for the public to appreciate the broad contributions that Latinos make to U.S. culture, Gavrilos says.

"Only a handful of news stories represented Latinos as an interwoven, natural part of our everyday communities, both changing and being changed by U.S. culture and society," says Gavrilos, noting that Latinos comprise 14 percent of the population and are therefore an increasingly influential part of American life.

Gavrilos, who completed this research while a faculty member at Arizona State University, has long been interested in how arbitrary constructs such as race or ethnicity create and define social relations. In fact, her Ph.D. dissertation at the UI focused on the representation of ethnicity in the news media.

As for improving future news articles in ways that truly reflect the country's diversity, Gavrilos offers some tips for journalists. "A small step might be to incorporate Latinos as sources in stories that are not specifically about Latinos," she says. "In this way, the person interviewed can be seen as an integrated community member."