Memo for weeks of August 1 and August 8

Memo for weeks of August 1 and August 8

August 9th, 2010  |  Published in Reporting Across Boundaries  |  1 Comment

The last two weeks haven’t been very productive for my independent study as I’ve had stories or projects due for other classes.  Though I was too late to shadow youth reporters covering teen depression as part of a Community TV Network summer program, I was able to watch the youth film their introduction sequences, get a sense of the group dynamic and talk to some of the youth who produced this summer’s report.

This week, I plan to follow up with the community organizations who nominated people for WBEZ’s Pritzker Fellowship and finish synthesizing and writing stories based on the reporting that I’ve already done.  I still need to connect with news organizations focused on African-American communities such as WVON, the Defender and/or some south-side bloggers writing about community news.

On the topic of African-American news coverage, I took a look at a Pew Research Center report titled Media, Race and Obama’s First Year, which analyzed media coverage of African Americans during the past year.

Events and Individuals Dominate African American News Coverage

This graph shows the way African Americans were covered in the media, “as a group, African Americans attracted relatively little attention in the U.S. mainstream news media during the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency — and what coverage there was tended to focus more on specific episodes than on examining how broader issues and trends affected the lives of blacks generally.”

According to the study, African-American angles to broad national stories were covered as part of reporting on health care reform and the economy, though these topics made up less than 10 percent of coverage focused on African Americans.

The Pew Research Center also did analysis on coverage of Gates’ arrest in the African-American press.  According to Pew’s analysis:

the discussion and columns offered here took a starkly different angle than the commentary in the mainstream press. While the mainstream media largely assessed political implications for President Obama, the commentary in the black press considered the broader question of race relations in the U.S.  It was also evident that these papers saw themselves as a voice of the black community.  Even within the opinion columns, there was a clear sense of providing an African American perspective to the story. The tone, however, in many cases, came across as less “us” versus “them” and more of an assessment of steps needed from all sides.

This report gives me some background context for asking about coverage of Chicago stories, such as the slaying of Derrion Albert and how it was covered in different media.  I would love to see similar media analysis just for Chicago, but I think that’s beyond the scope of what I’m able to do.

On Tavis Smiley’s radio show this week, Smiley and CBS correspondent Byron Pitts discuss the need for more diverse news coverage.  Pitts said he was optimistic that the changing demographics of the U.S. would compel news organizations to have more diverse coverage and reporters that reflect the country’s diversity.  When I talked to a team of Tribune reporters, they offered a very nuanced account of race in the newsroom that I’m excited to write up.  The Tribune reporters said that race sometimes mediated their reporting but that a good reporter should be able to navigate racial boundaries on her beat.  Having a similar experience with race, the reporters said, could help connect with sources, but experiences with class could still be dramatically different, and were sometimes masked by assumptions about experiences tied to race.  One reporter said she still found a lack of economic diversity in the newsroom.

On a final race and reporting note, Colorlines analyzed some data about mentions of race in the news and argue that conservative publications explicitly mention race with greater frequency than other news organizations.  The data suggests that race gets mentioned across the media and Colorlines seems to think that controversy over, rather than experience with race gets the most coverage.  It makes me want to take a second look at how or if race was addressed in the Tribune’s reporting on youth violence.

  • Stephangman

    It’s taken me too long to comment but here it is: I find it particularly interesting that publications from the conservative side mention race with greater frequency, and as an African American, I’m also not surprised. Much of what comes out of conservative politics in America, at least as far as most African Americans are concerned, simply adds to the racial divide. This more than likely stems from the inescapable fact that the people least likely to have personal interactions with African Americans are conservative politicians and the public that follows them. What is important to keep in mind here is that a racial divide does exist; it has always existed and still exists, and the division often colors (no pun intended) how affairs and incidents that either concern or involve African Americans are covered by the mainstream media. A perfect example would be Glen Beck’s rally at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th. He and other conservatives look at this as using Martin Luther King’s message of inclusion as including whites as well as blacks in the effort to end discrimination. What African Americans understand about King’s message is that it was really more about exclusion, namely the historic exclusion of African Americans from virtually every aspect of the American experience despite their obvious American citizenship. Thus, to African Americans, Beck’s using the anniversary of King’s speech to advance the conservative cause of whites who have always enjoyed privilege is a slap in the face. Those opposing views are expressed in how Beck’s event is covered, both by the black press and by African American journalists who are reporters for the mainstream news outlets.