It may come as a shock to know that while live TV is almost obsolete, about 41% of Americans tune in to TV stations for local news, as opposed to the 23% who receive it from online platforms.
Those numbers have forced many journalists of color across the country to address the importance of representation, accurate reporting and covering stories relevant to their local communities.
According to the Pew Research Center, 60% of Americans are concerned about racial diversity in local news outlets, or the lack thereof. Other studies from Pew also reveal that viewers typically pay close attention to the demeanor of journalists and other personal identifiers – such as race, religion and party affiliation – that resonate with them.
In response the Knight Foundation has launched an intriguing online series titled “Informed & Engaged,” to discuss issues relevant to the ever-changing world of media. The series also aims to address racial disparities in the industry.
One of the most recent episodes of the series, “Black Voices: The Stories that Need to be Told,” featured prominent Black journalists Jawan Strader, Dorothy Tucker, Karen Hawkins and Topher Sanders as panelists. The episode followed the national outrage that stemmed from the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and questioned how race dynamics in the newsroom affects the coverage and reporting of racial justice issues.
NBC 6 South Florida news anchor Strader voiced his frustration regarding underrepresentation.
“We need more representation on the air when it comes to us and our community,” said the Emmy winner, whose News 6 “Voices With Jawan Strader” segments are dedicated to disenfranchised communities.
The main concern echoed throughout the discussion was that a lack of representation can influence the demographics of viewers tuning in, as well as the number of people engaged in news content. Another issue dependent on representation is the stories selected to be featured on air. Some communities and important issues are at risk of being left out.
“When you have diverse thoughts and perspectives on the team, it shows up in the work,” said ProPublica reporter Sanders.
Strader highlighted the importance of Sanders’ remark by sharing some of his personal experiences as a journalist who on several occasions had to request permission to cover tragedies befalling Black communities.
Strader specifically remembers asking to fly to South Carolina for coverage on the Charleston shooting. Despite the event taking place outside of Florida, he felt a sense of urgency to bring the story to NBC 6 viewers, especially given the history of white supremacy in Florida and violence against its Black citizens.
“I felt compelled to tell the story,” recalled Strader. “This represents all of us, not just South Carolina.”
Considering a recent Pew study that revealed only 7% of Black journalists are newsroom employees, all four panelists agreed that Black journalists have a duty to seek out important issues and topics that aren’t adequately reported.
Tucker, president of the National Association of Black Journalists and a WBBM-TV CBS 2 Chicago reporter, made note of the ongoing battle for diversity in the newsroom and beat reporting.
“What’s going on in the newsroom in some cases, it’s a little bit of an uprising. Black journalists have been waiting for their turn, they have suffered through unequal pay, lack of mentorship. … You don’t see as many covering politics. … They aren’t in the investigative units,” she said.
Fortunately, Black journalists like Sanders have been actively working to bridge that gap through programs like the Ida B. Wells society – named after the African American journalist and abolitionist – that create opportunities for Black and brown people wishing to do investigative work.
“The work of investigative reporters has a real impact on the community,” Sanders reassured the audience.
Overall, the group encouraged people in the community to support their local news outlets and media, and to provide feedback to improve reporting content.
“Support community and ethnic media. It’s important to seek those out,” urged Hawkins, an editor-in-chief of Chicago Reader. “If you believe in local journalism and believe that you want it to survive, support it in any way you can.”
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