Last week’s message about playing up the positive side of Inglewood got such a good response, I decided to do a follow up. The problem of mainstream media reporting inaccuracies in black and brown communities is not limited to Inglewood. It is a long standing and widespread practice that must be changed.
ColorOfChange.org recently released a report card grading the 4 major news outlets in the coverage of New York City black communities. It wasn’t good. The report, “NOT TO BE TRUSTED: Dangerous Levels of Inaccuracy in TV Crime Reporting in NYC,” gave WNYW/FOX5 a “B.” “WNBC and WCBS each received a ‘D’, denoting ‘Dangerous Coverage;’ and WABC got a big, fat ‘F’, denoting reporting that is ‘Outright Hostile’ towards Black people.”
“The result is an outrageous level of distortion,” according to the website. “While 2 out of every 4 people the NYPD arrested for murder, assault and theft are Black, 3 out of every 4 people the news media show as responsible for those crimes are Black.” ABC made it appear that 75% of the crimes in New York City were committed by black people, when the reality was nowhere near that number. Simultaneously, stations under-report crimes perpetrated by white suspects.
The website goes on to say, “The exaggerated amount of Black faces linked to crime breeds suspicion and hostility toward Black people, as does the under-reporting of white-perpetrated crime. (And that's not even factoring in the vicious over-targeting of Black people by police in the first place.)”
ColorOfChange.org is calling for an end to the disproportionate targeting of Black people in crime coverage, transparency regarding the diversity of newsroom staff, and a greater systemic analysis and diversity of perspectives in their crime reporting.
Inaccurate reporting does more damage to race relations than most people realize. Millions rely on the news each day to make decisions. What they see and hear form the basis of their mindset, opinions and view point. The news shapes their reality. When blacks are portrayed as violent or suspicious, it creates barriers between them and others. It negatively impacts the image that black people have of themselves. Distorted reporting becomes a mirror that says to the world, “This is who black people are.” End of story.
Young people are especially vulnerable to this type of selective reporting. According to another ColorOfChange report, titled “Media Representations and Impact on the Lives of Black Men and Boys,” repeated exposure to the kinds of negative, dehumanizing stereotypes displayed on a nightly basis by local news stations are demoralizing and reduce the self-esteem and self-expectations of our young people.
On any given day, news outlets have thousands of stories they could run, but they choose to focus on the worst ones. This is why it is more important than ever to keep positive news in the spotlight. And historically, that responsibility has always fallen on the shoulders of local newspapers like Inglewood Today. Just as broadcast news and large daily newspapers have selected to hone in on crime committed by people of color, hometown newspapers must constantly point out what is right and good. If we waited for the L.A. Times or CBS to do it, we would wait forever. Only in rare cases, when the good news is too big to ignore—like the stadium deal in Inglewood—will a major news outlet give love to a black and brown community.
This is sad, and lazy reporting at its best. But it’s reality and one which must be dealt with.
ColorOfChange is building a movement to elevate the voices of African Americans and their allies. The first step is getting major media to admit they have a reporting problem, and commit themselves to correcting it. As always, local, community-based media will have to continue calling out big media and making sure the voices of minority stakeholders are being heard. Inglewood Today will continue to do its part. Will you?