A Review of
“Coming to Terms with our Own Racism”: Journalists Grapple with the Racialization of their News
Anti-Racism in the Media
Promoting anti-racism in the media requires a long-term commitment to anti-racism policies and initiatives.
Despite the various achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, the media has played a key role in perpetuating negative and stereotypical perceptions of communities of color. Through its growing political and social influence on American society, the nation’s large media institutions have attained the ability to determine the specific issues that the average American discusses. At the same time, they have the ability to shape how individuals perceive certain issues, particularly when it comes to racial and ethnic relations.
Using these unique channels of social and political influence, many media institutions have consistently provided their consumers with false or misleading information regarding various racial groups. In doing so, they have maintained the disparity between public perception and the reality of critical issues related to race and ethnicity. For these reasons, various emerging fields of research now focus on the impact that journalists may experience when their writing and reporting intentionally address issues related to racism. This paper furthermore found that such intentional efforts could promote antiracist consciousness among reporters, while also promoting changes in hiring practices and the way in which media institutions cover communities of color.
These findings are provided by Emily M. Drew, Ph.D., who currently serves as an Associate Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies at Willamette University. Throughout her twenty-year career, Professor Drew has been extensively engaged in anti-racism organizing and activism. With her research interests primarily grounded in the ways in which race and ethnicity operate in social institutions, Professor Drew has traveled the nation in her attempt to enhance public knowledge of issues related to white privilege, reparations, and affirmative action.
Methods and Findings
To analyze the impact of speaking with intentionality on issues of race and ethnicity, this paper interviewed twenty-eight journalists of major newspapers. Each of these newspapers were selected on the basis of their location in one of the fifty largest metropolitan areas in the United States. At the same time, each newspaper was required to have hosted a major news series that aspired to bring greater public awareness to the continued pervasiveness of racism in local communities.
The analysis clarified the impact of sustaining a major news series about race and ethnicity for media organizations. Several of these findings, as well as various realizations reported by some journalists, are summarized below:
- Logistical challenges often led to journalists relying on the same news sources, which ultimately played a key role in sustaining dominant viewpoints.
- While many newsrooms are predominately staffed by white journalists and managers, they often refrain from revealing that lack of racial and ethnic diversity for fear of undermining their news series on race and ethnicity.
- Devoting significant resources to a series on race and ethnicity had the potential to sustain a cultural shift in white consciousness throughout the media organization.
- Increasing reporting on racism had the potential to rebuild trust between local newspapers and historically marginalized communities of color.
- Sustaining a news-based series on race and ethnicity contributed to the growth of related panels, book clubs, and discussion groups after the end of that series.
- Upon creating a news series on race and ethnicity, newspapers were often asked by community organizations and local governments to participate in local task forces.
While these findings indicate that news series on race and ethnicity had the potential to generate benefits for both the newspaper and its external stakeholders, these benefits were often short-lived. Upon completing their initial efforts to promote greater white consciousness in their organizations, many media institutions ultimately reverted to their traditional stance of refraining from engaging in discussions related to race and ethnicity.
With the increasing social and political power of media institutions, journalists are now in a position to shape public discourse. Yet, in their attempts to reshape their communities’ perceptions of race and ethnicity, journalists often discovered various challenges and inequities in their own approaches to, or perceptions of, race and ethnicity. These realizations not only exposed the extent to which many media institutions were disengaged from the communities they serve, but also that interventions were needed to reorient relationships both within and outside the organization.
While these interventions have the potential to develop antiracist consciousness within media organizations, it is critical that they are institutionalized. Without a long-term commitment to sustaining antiracist policies and initiatives, many media organizations were prone to reverting to prior practices. In many cases, these initial investments in antiracist work were steadily eroded in subsequent years, as new management perceived their organizations as having fulfilled their initial goal of initiating discussions on race and ethnicity.
Challenging the institutional structures of media organizations goes far beyond simply having initial discussions on race and ethnicity. To truly reorient the impact that media organizations have on their local communities, they must redefine the very definition of what constitutes newsworthy content. At the same time, they must resist the market-driven pressures to pursue sensationalized stories that drive consumer attention. Rather, media organizations must commit themselves to investing in antiracist policies that not only build staff knowledge on those issues, but also change the structures that the organization as a whole uses to source and depict news.
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