Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A 'Race' for the Headlines

Lexi Sweet

To be honest, the idea of discussing diversity in an ethics class was something I would not have considered prior to this week. However, after the variety of readings we have had, I believe I have a whole new perspective on the topic. The reading I found most interesting was an article that came from the Society of Professional Journalists Online Quill Magazine entitled "Why the race is far from over."

The article began with some interesting anecdotes regarding President Obama, as reporting his race during the election was some of the most controversial in history. Obviously, the big story revolves around the fact that Obama is the first black president. Before I get too far into addressing the comments in the article, I would like to point out something interesting. There was a media frenzy over the fact that our president is black, as noted in this article in reference to a Jan. 21 CNN article entitled, "Black first family 'changes everything,'" however this article also addresses the fact the Obama is actually biracial. That being said, why is he so proud of his black heritage yet forgetting completely about his white heritage? That seems a little unfair to his mother's side of the family.. Is this not somewhat reverse racism? The media made no mention of this part of his family either. Why was it that we were all so focused on Obama being black, rather than focusing more on his politics, which to me seems like the important thing?
But I digress, and now move on to one of the biggest racial issues in the media with regards to Obama: his birth certificate. I believe that this topic in our class is very timely, as just today Obama released his birth certificate for the world to see. For some reason, the world, due to the media based on the agenda-setting theory, became obsessed with the idea that Obama was not actually born in the United States, thus could not be president, and there was a huge demand to see his birth certificate. As far as I know, this is the first time in history that this has happened, clearly it was not a problem for Bush or Clinton, and that can only lead to one conclusion; we question him because he is black. Even as a conservative, someone who does not support most of Obama's policies and did not vote for him, I think this argument is ridiculous and has gotten out of hand. Months later, it is finally over.
An interesting side story to this, though, regards the man who was the main emphasis behind the birth certificate debacle: Donald Trump. Specifically, with regards to response to the release of the certificate. In this video, you will see as Trump praises himself for doing such a great job getting Obama to release the certificate, but he then proceeds to blame the media for all the hype. He says he is excited this whole issue is finally resolved, so he can now do interviews on things that are important to him rather than always talk about the birth certificate. So I ask, was the media causing the obsession, or were they just covering what Trump kept giving them as controversial news?

The article mentions a few suggestions that I think all media outlets should follow to better cover race.
1. Reporters should stop trying to give people one-word labels such as black, white or others based on appearance, and simply ask their subjects how they want to be identified.
This is similar to the point that I was making about Obama's race, why was it so important he be identified as black (other than the obvious that it was a historic moment for the presidency). But for others not in the public eye, it is still an issue. For example, in the video "Mulatto Diaries #62" discussed in this article, "Biracial Tiffany" addresses what a strange concept it is that she is proud to be both black and white; but why should it be? And why does she have to identify as just one, based solely on the fact that she looks black?

2. Reporters should turn to Facebook, Twitter, Google Alerts, YouTube and other online sources for story ideas and tips on the latest developments in stories related to race and racial identity.
Stories are not always going to fall into our laps, most of the time we will have to seek out the best, controversial and most interesting stories. What better place to find them than all of the social media available today? Take the "Mulatto Diaries" video for example, "Biracial Tiffany" has a whole series of these videos making excellent points regarding race, but she is not going to send them into the newsroom.

3. Traditional news outlets should keep stories that explore the confusing and contradictory aspects of racial identity on the front page, not just the op-ed pages.
If you read the CNN article that I referenced previously, there was an op-ed piece posted in response in which Jennifer Brea expressed some very complex views regarding her biracial identity. In reading this article, I feel that it is something that could be fit for more hard news sections of the media, and why shouldn't it be? Reporters must be aware that where stories regarding race are placed is just as important as covering race to begin with.

As journalists, it is our duty to make sure we cover diverse news stories. It is my hope that others, like myself, will learn from the past mistakes made by the media and employ these simple tricks to help improve our own reporting.

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