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Arab American

Ethnic
By the Project For Excellence In Journalism
Arab American

The Arab American media in 2009 suffered substantial losses in advertising revenue.

Demographics

The total population of Arab Americans in the U.S. is disputed. The U.S. Census Bureau in 2000 reported 1.2 million Arab Americans.1 The Arab American Institute, however, argued that figure was low and in 2003 issued its own estimate of 3.5 million.2

What is not in dispute is that the Arab American population has grown. Between 1990 and 2000, it grew 38%, according to the census estimates, and has doubled in size since 1980, when the census began tracking ancestry.3 About half of the Arab American population lived in five states in 2000: California, New York, Michigan, Florida and New Jersey.4

Print

Despite population growth, Arab American print struggled in 2009. Two of the biggest newspapers suffered deep cuts in advertising revenue, though one managed to add a new West Coast edition.

The weekly Arab American News, the largest and oldest Arab American newspaper in the United States, experienced a 35%-to-40% cut in advertising revenue in 2009, according to the newspaper’s publisher, Osama Siblani.5

Established in 1984, the paper publishes articles in both English and Arabic. It does some original reporting and also runs material from the Christian Science Monitor News Service and Reuters.

The paper is distributed free throughout Southeastern Michigan and available by subscription in other parts of the country.

With a circulation of 30,000 in 2009, the paper, Siblani said, cannot print enough copies to keep up with reader demand, but it also cannot afford to expand its production and distribution.  To Siblani, the “advertising revenue cannot support this high [level of] distribution.”6

To raise more advertising revenue, the paper published special supplements. The 2009 supplement for the holy month of Ramadan was particularly successful, Siblani said, and a special wedding supplement will come out in early 2010.7

Arab American News also has a website that includes all of the print newspaper’s content as well as breaking news headlines. Still, the website does not bring in much income. “We have a great website,” Siblani said. “However, so far Internet advertising isn’t cutting it.”

A smaller Arab-American newspaper, Aramica, also experienced huge declines in advertising in 2009. Established in Brooklyn in 2002, the paper is also bilingual and is distributed at no cost in mosques and Arabic churches in the New York City region.8

In 2009, Aramica had an estimated average circulation of 14,000 or 15,000, about half what it was in 2008, according to the newspaper’s publisher, Antoine Faisal. By November 2008, the paper had lost 85% of its advertising and Faisal considered shutting down the newspaper.9

Instead, the publisher cut down to a “barebones” operation and, in August 2009, started an edition in Los Angeles. The decision to start a California edition “was not an expansion,” Faisal said, adding that it was done “to save what could be saved, getting more advertising income from California.”10

The California edition reprints most of what is carried in the New York edition, but it still makes the paper the first bicoastal Arab American newspaper in the U.S. The California edition has a circulation of 10,000, according to Faisal.11

Faisal sees a promising future.  The fall of 2009 brought an advertising spike of 35% to 40% for the New York edition over the summer months, which is generally a slow period for the newspaper. Faisal also plans a massive shift to Internet and mobile access, where he sees the future of journalism.12

Radio

The number of Arab-focused radio programs in the United States is small. The Arab American Journalism Association estimated there were 12 in 2008.13

One popular Arab radio host is Ray Hanania, a journalist and stand-up comedian who hosts Radio Chicagoland, a daily talk radio show on WJJG in the Chicago area. Hanania also publishes the National Arab American Times News Newspaper, an online English-Arabic newspaper.14

Another Arab-targeted radio program is RadioTahrir, which broadcasts from New York City on Pacifica-WBAI. The program’s website says that it is “dedicated to the principle of public broadcasting with the aim of bringing the voices, history, compassion and concerns of Arab/Muslim peoples everywhere to the general public.”

Digital

One area where the Arab American media has shown growth is online. Several Arab American news outlets started Twitter accounts and found Facebook to be a useful tool in 2009, according to Suzanne Manneh, a media coordinator and Arab media monitor for New America Media, an association of ethnic media. While Manneh was unsure whether it would result in monetary gain, she did say that it could “broaden the scope” for Arab American Media.15

Television

The main source of Arab-focused news in America on television comes from Al Jazeera English, a subsidiary of the Arab news network Al Jazeera. That network is discussed more fully in the Cable chapter. The channel does provide a news program that airs on cable stations throughout the U.S. and on satellite. There is no estimate, however, of how many stations might carry that half-hour news program, and there has been resistance in general to carry the all-news network itself.


Footnotes

1. Haya El Nasser, “U.S. Census Reports on Arab-Americans for First Time,” November 20, 2003.

2. Arab American Institute, Arab American Demographics.

3. Haya El Nasser, “U.S. Census Reports on Arab-Americans for First Time,” November 20, 2003.

4. Haya El Nasser, “U.S. Census Reports on Arab-Americans for First Time,” November 20, 2003.

5. Osama Siblani, interview with PEJ. November 23, 2009.

6. Osama Siblani, interview with PEJ. November 23, 2009.

7. Osama Siblani, interview with PEJ. November 23, 2009.

8. Antoine Faisal, interview with PEJ, November 23, 2009.

9. Antoine Faisal, interview with PEJ, November 23, 2009.

10. Antoine Faisal, interview with PEJ, November 23, 2009.

11. Antoine Faisal, interview with PEJ, November 23, 2009.

12. Antoine Faisal, interview with PEJ, November 23, 2009.

13. “Arab American Journalists Criticize Mainstream American Media for Selective Coverage,” Arab American Journalism Association Press Release, April 21, 2008.

14. Ray Hanania Biography, Media Oasis.

15. Suzanne Manneh, interview with PEJ, November 20, 2009