Challenging media images, long-standing stereotypes
By Stacy M. Brown | NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
An in-depth study by the Pew Research Center took a deep dive into the experiences of Black Americans with news coverage, shedding light on critical perspectives and recommendations for more equitable representation. The survey involved 4,742 U.S. adults identifying as Black and offered an extensive and comprehensive insight into their attitudes, habits, and experiences with news and information.
The findings revealed a stark divide in how Black individuals perceive news coverage of their community. “There’s not a lot of African-American coverage unless it’s February or it’s criminal,” one individual stated, according to Pew. That sentiment was echoed by another respondent who stated, “They overemphasize the bad, and not some of the good things that are happening in the community, or if they do talk about the good things, it’s just a blurb and they want to focus on the one thing [that] was just terrible.”
Almost two-thirds (63%) believe that news about Black people is often portrayed in a negative light compared to other racial and ethnic groups. Furthermore, a significant 57% feel that the news only focuses on specific segments of the Black community, while just 9% believe it covers a diverse range of individuals.
Half of the respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the coverage, asserting that it often needs vital information, whereas only 9% believe it provides a comprehensive picture. Disturbingly, 43% claim that the coverage tends to stereotype Black individuals, contrasting starkly with the 11% who disagree. The critical views transcended age, gender, and political affiliations and painted a consistent picture of discontent.
According to the survey, 39% of African-Americans frequently encounter news that is racist or racially insensitive towards their community, while an additional 41% report occasional exposure. The respondents identified various factors contributing to this problem, including media outlets pushing agendas (51%), journalists’ lack of informed perspectives (45%), and the presence of racist views within news organizations (42%).
Despite the prevailing skepticism, only 14% of African-Americans are highly confident that fair representation in news coverage will occur within their lifetimes. A notable 64% of those who have witnessed racially insensitive coverage believe that educating all journalists about issues affecting African-Americans would be an extremely or very effective way to ensure fairer coverage. “There’s definitely less empathy, I think, for people of color, for working-class people from people who are not Black… I think they deliver the news in a way that is different than how someone who does understand our experiences would deliver the news,” another survey respondent observed, according to Pew.
Substantial percentages also advocate for including more Black voices as sources (54%) and for hiring Black individuals in leadership roles within newsrooms (53%). That echoed the call for diversification in newsrooms made over five decades ago by the 1967 Kerner Commission.
These findings resonate with the observations of the 1967 Kerner Commission, which highlighted sensationalist, divisive, and inaccurate representations of Black communities in the media. The Commission emphasized the urgent need to diversify newsrooms, a call that remains relevant more than five decades later.
While many Black Americans value the perspective of Black journalists in reporting on racial issues, only 14% consider it highly important for news in general to come from Black journalists. Just 15% believe a journalist’s race is an extremely or very important factor in determining a story’s credibility, ranking below factors such as cited sources (53%), multiple outlets (50%), and the news outlet itself (46%).
Diverging opinions emerged when considering the importance of racial identity among Black Americans. Those who place a high value on their Black identity expressed a significantly stronger preference for journalists who understand the historical context of stories involving Black individuals (82%). Conversely, this dropped to 55% among those who attach less importance to their racial identity.
The study also identified generational and educational divides in perceptions of Black journalists’ effectiveness. Younger Black adults, aged 18 to 29, were more likely to believe that Black journalists excel at covering issues related to race (54%) and understanding them (50%) compared to their older counterparts. Likewise, individuals with higher levels of formal education and income expressed more positive views toward the work of Black journalists.