New Report Highlights How Black Media Focuses and Amplifies Issues of Importance to Black Communities ”Nieman Journalism Lab

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Black media publishes on issues of importance to black communities much more often – up to six times more – than other media. That’s one of the main findings of a new report released last week by the Black Media Initiative of the Center for Community Media at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at New York University.

To compile the new report, titled “Why Black Media Matters Now,” the researchers examined nearly 100 African-American media sources during the 15-month period between March 1, 2020 and May 1, 2021. In total, the report’s authors reviewed nearly 180,000 of the articles. The report was also compiled with five key areas of coverage in mind – Covid-19, Health, Racism, Politics, Culture and Identity – and the researchers created additional sub-themes for each of these main areas.

Here are the main conclusions that emerged:

Black media publish up to six times more coverage than mainstream media on issues important to black communities, including racism, health disparities and access to the vote.
– Almost one in four (23%) articles in black media mentioned racism or related issues, compared to less than one in ten (8%) articles in mainstream media.
– In coronavirus coverage, black media wrote five times more than mainstream media on the pandemic’s disproportionate racial impact, and nearly twice as much as mainstream media on frontline and essential workers.
– Black media covered a variety of health issues particularly relevant to black communities at higher levels than mainstream media, including maternal health, hypertension, diabetes, HIV / AIDS, and sickle cell disease.
– The issue of voting was included in 12% of all political reporting in black media, which is more than double the percentage for mainstream media (5%).

Black media paves the way for stories related to racism, emphasizing these stories at higher levels and earlier in the news cycle than mainstream media.

Black media centers the community in coverage and humanizes individuals and groups in the news.
– Black media frequently used the word “Black” in coverage, in an explicit designation of black people and communities to report the news. The word “black” was consistently in the top 100 most frequently used words on a variety of topics, and in many cases was particularly prevalent compared to the words most used by mainstream media.
– Black media has always emphasized certain social identities for a variety of topics – community, family, women and children in the first place. The mainstream media did not use these words with similar frequency.
– Black media connects current events through topics to cover broader issues of injustice, including threats to access to the vote, disparities in medical care, policing and l mass imprisonment.
– Black media provide historical context to current challenges. This is done by explicitly including historical events in the latest related news, as well as by linking related news events such as the police murders of blacks.

As we dig deeper into these results, more interesting ideas emerge. For example, the black media were much more likely to cover the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor than the mainstream media. Dedicated mainstream media less time to cover the murder of George Floyd than the black media did to cover the death of Breonna Taylor.

More from the report:

The highest day of black media coverage of the topic of racism was June 14, 2020, when coverage reached 68% of stories amid a massive national response to the murder of George Floyd. This is twice the level of the highest date in mainstream media, when coverage reached 34% on June 7, 2020. Between late May and early June 2020, at the height of the news cycle around the Floyd’s murder, levels of racism coverage have peaked. the subthemes were consistently twice as numerous in black media as in mainstream media.

These disparities in coverage also persisted for the other four subjects.

The report also found differences in the language used by different types of media. Black media tended to use humanizing language more frequently than mainstream media. Terms such as “victims” in the coverage of police brutality and “son” in the coverage of police shootings were among the 100 most used words in black media reports, but were not so important in the reports. mainstream media reports.

Stories featured in black media were also uniquely focused on Black identity and community, particularly with a focus on children and women. “Child,” “children” or “youth” was in the top 100 most frequently used words in black media coverage, but not in mainstream media, for coverage of topics such as racism (especially l ‘mass incarceration) and politics (especially immigration stories).

Finally, the report found that black media tended to create story arcs that linked current events to larger issues such as systemic injustice. The figure below shows the keyword “justice” in the context of black media coverage of religion, which was one of the issues where “justice” was particularly prevalent.

Black media also tend to relate current events to historical events and provide context. From the report:

Tuskegee’s experience figures prominently in black media coverage of medical mistrust. Jim Crow is featured in the coverage of the mass incarceration. Lynching is frequently included in the coverage of slavery and Juneteenth. Even the word “story” itself is particularly prevalent in black media across a variety of subjects.

This technique was particularly prevalent when it came to police killings, where mention of previous victims was included in stories of new killings.

The researchers behind the report conclude that while the results are not entirely surprising, they underscore how the black media plays a vital role in supporting and amplifying issues important to the black community. Still, there are some unanswered questions that this research does not yet answer:

  • Are there differences in the way black-owned media and black-targeted media cover these topics? Are there differences in the way traditional and digital black media cover these issues?
  • What are the needs, habits and topics of interest of black media consumers?
  • What is the impact of financial investment in black media organizations?

Read the full report here.


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