Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Impact of Racial Identity on Journalsim

By: Chris Roling

Diversity is a major challenge journalists are currently facing. Racial identity is one facet of diversity our country is struggling to comprehend. The election of President Barack Obama has only brought the issue to the forefront of our nation’s collective mind.

Besides the fact Obama has recently had to provide an official birth certificate to the media, he is under constant scrutiny because our society has trouble dealing with the fact he is biracial. Our society is ill-equipped to deal with any racial labels outside of the narrow-minded black or white. Additionally, stereotypes unintentionally slip into a news story because most newsrooms are ignorant to stereotypes because of lack of diversity in the newsroom itself.

Credit to Matt Wuerker and Politico

Yumi Wilson, in her article entitled Why the race debate is far from over, addresses the issue of racial identity only being explored by news organizations in the op-ed sections of their publications.

“Reporters too often simplify or ignore complex or politically charged aspects of a story, usually in the interest of space, clarity and trying to appear neutral or objective in their reporting.”

The definition of news is a major issue here. How can journalists differentiate between a simplistic news story, or a story with multiple racial perspectives that could potentially alienate a reader? Each race has to be fairly represented on any given issue, but the attempt at gaining multiple racial perspectives can’t come off as forced.

The short answer to this issue is to have a diverse staff. Organizations have to attempt to have multiple viewpoints represented on a story before it is ever published. What one reporter considers to be a great caption could be something another reporter finds slightly offensive.

In the end, individual journalists have to form their own code. While using something like SPJ’s Code of Ethics is a great place to start, individual experiences will help to fully shape a personal code. As soon as we can all open our eyes to the diverse cultures that surround us, the sooner we can better ourselves as journalists. Bettering ourselves as journalists inherently progresses our society down the path of understanding each other, and the world we inhabit.

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