Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Journalist's Power of Diversity

Marisa Oberle

Diversity is a broad, difficult topic. There's no set definition, and the definition needs to cover multiple aspects of life. However, the lack of diversity or understanding of diversity amongst journalists can cause serious problems in newsrooms and in stories.

A Journalist's Power

It's no secret that journalists reach a mass amount of people. In fact, journalists are often referred as the mass media. The point is, whatever journalists and media companies publish, thousands of people will see it. Because of this, journalists must remember that their words have the power to inform, influence, create fear and heal.

How journalists tell a story will determine how audiences depict and react to that story. In many cases, journalists are able to write a story in an appropriate manner. However, sometimes coverage can create stereotypes and fears among certain groups of people.

This is evident in how the media describes people accused of terrorism. The media often scrutinizes these suspects' travel history, religious routine, etc. These facts often lack context and aren't necessary to the story. The scrutiny comes when suspects are different than the majority of people. Suspects who are similar to the majority don't receive nearly as much criticism.

This is dangerous because it violates a common theme in many code of ethics- seek truth and report it while minimizing harm. If a journalist is analyzing a terrorism suspect's travel history, but it has no connection to the story, then that journalist is failing to provide the truth. The journalist would need to find the relevance of the suspect's travel history and then explain that relevance to the audience. Failure to do so can cause harm to the suspect. That can be towards him, his right to a fair trial, his family, etc. 

Declining Trust in the Media Amongst Minorities

Audiences are noticing this lack of ethics when it comes to reporting on minorities. A study shows three-fourths of African Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics don't fully trust the media to portray their communities accurately. In addition, these groups feel they can't even get news about their communities. 

It's important to note this, especially when the media business is struggling as bad as it is. 

When journalists tell stories of minority communities, they need to think if it's the best depiction of these communities. A Pew Research Center study found that within a two month span, 73 percent of broadcast stories featuring black men were about sports or crime. Other studies found similar results. 

Seeing stories only related to crime and sports about African Americans has to be discouraging to members of the African American community. They know there are other more newsworthy things African Americans are doing in a society than sports and crime. However, the media fails to tell those stories. 

How to Improve Diversity in Journalism

There are multiple suggestions on how to improve diversity in the newsroom. One is having a beat dedicated to covering race. There are pros and cons and some media outlets have even done it. 

A better, more realistic way is to hire people from all different backgrounds. Make sure newsrooms have voices from various race, sexuality, gender, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. With more diverse journalists, a more diverse newsroom can emerge. 

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