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Black Americans remain trusting of mainstream media, despite lack of fairness in coverage

Emeri Burks via Twitter (@ebwords)

U.S. news media has traditionally been a space dominated by white men - according to a Pew Research Center poll in 2018, white people made up 77 percent of all newsroom employees, and men made up 61 percent.

However, African Americans maintain some of the highest levels of trust in news media. Another Pew poll showed that 33 percent of Black Americans said they had a lot of trust in local news sources, and 23 percent said they had maintained trust in national news sources.

Emeri Burks, a postgraduate researcher based in the Twin Cities says that despite the trust Black Americans show in traditional news media, the media has not been fair to them.

“There is a fundamental gap in how traditional news media sees reporting on issues -older journalists have their own ways to report on issues- and often times that reporting on minority communities lacks the historic significance that those communities face,” Burks said. “There isn’t a lot of nuance in that kind of reporting.”

Burks said that one of the points of contention is between news media’s trust in police reports and sources. In an interview with CNN in June 2020, Criminologist and Criminology Professor at Bowling Green State University Phillip Stinson said that among 10,000 arrest cases, 6.3 percent -or about 630- involved a false report or statement. Burks says that those lies undermine the faith people have in news media.

“Whereas the norm has been to take police reports and such at face value, the death of George Floyd and how hard the Minneapolis police tried to cover for the officers involved showed people that the media has a responsibility to get things right -even if it conflicts with police,” Burks said.

News media organizations have taken notice of this slant, however, and are making progress towards diversifying their newsrooms. Among them is the Twin Cities’ Star Tribune, where Kyndell Harkness works as the assistant managing editor of diversity and community. She says that newsrooms are moving to integrate diverse voices in their reporting, and sees high hopes for more accurate reporting.

Kyndell Harkness via Kyndell Harkness

“Newsrooms are a public-facing thing, and what we say has a lot of power, we have these huge megaphones,” Harkness said. “It’s incredibly important that [underrepresented] stories are rich and complex and full, and I don’t think you can get that when you don’t have different people in the room.”

As newsrooms get more diverse, Harkness hopes their coverage will become a more nuanced reflection of the communities they report on, and not simply a “two-dimensional look” at the issues.


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