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Oct. 14, 2021, 11:59 a.m.
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Black media outlets publish on issues of importance to Black communities much more often — as many as six times as much — than other outlets. That’s among the top findings of a new report published last week by the Black Media Initiative of the Center for Community Media at the City University of New York’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.

To compile the new report, titled “Why Black media matters now,” researchers looked through nearly 100 African American media sources over the 15-month period between March 1, 2020 and May 1, 2021. In total, the report’s authors reviewed nearly 180,000 articles. The report was also compiled with five key areas of coverage in mind — Covid-19, health, racism, politics, and culture and identity — and the researchers created further subtopics for each of these main areas.

Here are the key findings that emerged:

Black media publishes, by a factor of as high as six times, more coverage than mainstream media on issues of importance to Black communities, including racism, health disparities, and voting access.
— Nearly one in every four (23%) articles in Black media mentioned racism or related issues, as compared with less than one in ten articles (8%) in mainstream media.
— Within coronavirus coverage, Black media wrote five times more than mainstream media on the disproportionate racial impact of the pandemic, and nearly twice as much as mainstream media on frontline and essential workers.
— Black media covered a variety of health issues of particular relevance to Black communities at higher levels than mainstream media, including maternal health, hypertension, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and sickle cell disease.
— The issue of voting access was included in 12% of all politics stories in Black media, which is more than twice the percentage for mainstream media (5%).

Black media leads the way on stories related to racism, putting focus on these stories at higher levels and earlier in the news cycle than mainstream media.

Black media centers the community in coverage and humanizes the individuals and groups in the news.
— Black media used the word “Black” frequently in coverage, in an explicit naming of Black people and communities in reporting the news. The word “Black” was consistently in the most frequently used 100 words across various topics, and in many cases was uniquely prevalent when compared with the top words used by mainstream media.
— Black media consistently had certain social identities emphasized for a variety of topics – community, family, women, and children foremost among them. Mainstream media did not use these words with similar frequency.
— Black media connects news events across subjects to cover wider issues of injustice, including threats to voting access, disparities in medical care, and policing and mass incarceration.
— Black media provides historical context to present day challenges. This is done by explicitly including historical events in related breaking news, as well as by linking related news events such as police killings of Black people.

Digging further into these findings, more interesting insights emerge. For instance, Black media was much more likely to cover the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor than mainstream media. Mainstream media dedicated less time to covering the murder of George Floyd than Black media did to covering Breonna Taylor’s death.

More from the report:

The single highest day of coverage to the subject of racism by Black media was June 14, 2020, when coverage reached 68% of stories amid 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, in the height of the news cycle around Floyd’s killing, peak date levels of coverage to racism subtopics were consistently twice as high in Black media as in mainstream media.

These disparities in coverage persisted across the other four topics as well.

The report also found differences when it came to language used by the different media types. Black media outlets tended to use humanizing language with more frequency than mainstream outlets. Terms such as “victims” in police brutality coverage and “son” in police shooting coverage were among the top 100 words in Black media stories, but weren’t that prominent in mainstream media stories.

Stories featured in Black media also uniquely centered the Black identity and community, including placing emphasis on children and women. “Child,” “children,” or “youth” appeared in the top 100 most frequently used words in Black media’s coverage, but not mainstream media’s, for coverage of topics including racism (specifically mass incarceration) and politics (specifically stories of immigration).

Finally, the report found that Black media tended to create narrative arcs that tied news events to broader issues such as systemic injustice. The figure below shows the keyword “justice” in context within coverage of religion in Black media, which was one of the issues in which “justice” was uniquely prevalent.

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

The Tuskegee experiment is prominently featured in Black media’s coverage of medical mis/distrust. Jim Crow is emphasized in coverage of mass incarceration. Lynching is frequently included in coverage of slavery and Juneteenth. Even the word “history” itself is uniquely prevalent in Black media across a diversity of topics.

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

The researchers behind the report conclude that although the findings are not entirely surprising, they underscore how Black media serves a critical role in supporting and amplifying issues important to the Black community. Still, there are outstanding questions that this research doesn’t yet answer:

  • Are there differences in how Black-owned media and Black-targeted media cover these topics? Are there differences in how legacy and digital Black media are covering 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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