In a new study, Black Americans expressed broad concerns about how they are depicted in the news media, with majorities saying they see racist or negative depictions and a lack of effort to cover broad segments of their community.
Four in 5 Black adults say they see racist or racially insensitive depictions of their race in the news either often or sometimes, according to the Pew Research Center.
Three years after George Floyd’s killing triggered a racial reckoning in the news media, Pew took its first broad-based look at Black attitudes toward the media with a survey of nearly 5,000 Black adults this past winter and follow-up focus groups.
The survey found 63% of respondents saying news about Black people is often more negative than it is toward other racial or ethnic groups, with 28% saying it is about equal.
“It’s not surprising at all,” said Charles Whitaker, dean of the Medill journalism school at Northwestern University. “We’ve known both anecdotally, and through my personal experience with the Black press, that Blacks have long been dissatisfied with their coverage.
“There’s a feeling that Black Americans are often depicted as perpetrators or victims of crime, and there are no nuances in the coverage,” Mr. Whitaker said.
That attitude is reflected in the Pew study’s finding that 57% of respondents say the media only covers certain segments of Black communities, compared to 9% who say that a wide variety is depicted.
“They should put a lot more effort into providing context,” said Richard Prince, a columnist for the Journal-isms newsletter, which covers diversity issues. “They should realize that Blacks and other people of color want to be portrayed as having the same concerns as everybody else, in addition to hearing news about African American concerns.”
Advertising actually does a much better job of showing Black people in situations common to everybody, raising families or deciding where to go for dinner, he said.
Mr. Prince said he’s frequently heard concerns about Black crime victims being treated like suspects in news coverage, down to the use of police mug shots as illustrations. He recently convened a journalist’s roundtable to discuss the lingering, notorious issue of five Black men who were exonerated after being accused of attacking a white jogger in New York’s Central Park in the 1980s.
During a time of sharp partisan differences, the study found virtually no difference in attitudes toward news coverage between Black Democrats and Republicans, said Katerina Eva Matsa, director of news and information research at Pew.
For example, 46% of Republicans and 44% of Democrats say that news coverage largely stereotyped Black people, Pew said.
Negative attitudes toward the press tended to increase with income and education levels, Ms. Matsa said. While 57% of those in lower income levels said news coverage about Black people was more negative than it was about other groups, that number jumped to 75% of wealthier respondents, the study found.
A large majority of those surveyed, young and old, expressed little confidence that things would improve much in their lifetime.
While 40% of survey participants said it was important to see Black journalists report on issues about race and racial inequality, the race of journalists wasn’t that important about general news.
Mr. Prince said it’s important for journalists to know history; he wrote on Monday about the idea of a government shutdown was raised in 1879 when former Confederates in Congress wanted to deny money to protect Black people at the polls, and how the filibuster started to prevent civil rights legislation.
At Northwestern, professors are trying to teach students the importance of having a broader sense of the communities that they’re covering, Mr. Whitaker said. Medill is also a hub for solutions journalism, which emphasizes coverage of people trying to solve societal problems.
“We’re trying to get away from parachute journalism,” he said.
Mr. Prince said there was notable progress, post-Floyd, in the hiring of Black journalists into leadership roles in the media. Unfortunately, the news industry continues to contract while social media increases in importance, he said.
“We’re integrating an industry that’s shrinking,” he said.
This story was reported by The Associated Press.
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