Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Melting Pot? Diversity in American Media

Lucas Macce-Feiler

There is no question that the United States currently faces an epidemic of racial and ethnic division.

As a country founded on principles of freedom and equality, there are many systemic issues that must be resolved in order to achieve unity. In many cases, diversity is the antidote. The more varying outlooks and opinions, the more productive and nuanced conversation can be. Change can occur.

American media, specifically journalism, is a foundational pillar in shaping society. Diversity in media coverage is pivotal to moving said society forward.

Historically, the press has helped make many strides in illuminating issues of gender, race and sexual orientation. But one doesn't have to look long to find significant weaknesses in diversity throughout all media.

Perhaps the chief concern is the lack of diversity in the newsrooms and media organizations throughout the U.S. In her Nieman Reports column, Susan Smith Richardson points to the troubling difference in the number of minorities in the United States and the number of minorities working for newspapers. Citing 2013 data from the American Society of News Editors and the U.S. Census Bureau, Richardson makes the case that minorities, who make up 37 percent of the population, are grossly underrepresented in newspaper publication, comprising just 13 percent of newsrooms.
Illustration courtesy of

Diversity is not only important for instilling a variety of ideas and utilizing various backgrounds, it also builds a culture of trust with news consumers--particularly minorities. A 2014 Media Insight Project study of African American and Hispanic news consumers show that an overwhelming majority found believed their respective communities were at best moderately accurate.

This trend makes sense when the disparity between minority populations and minority workforce within the media.

Furthermore, coverage of minority groups too often caters to stereotypes and misconstrued beliefs. Such unfair coverage often appears when stories involve individuals of Islamic faith. Recent spates of terror attacks and the proliferation of terrorist groups like ISIS help fuel this jump to religious motive.

However, the rise of anti-immigration, security-centric political figures, such as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, also gave momentum to long simmering anti-Islamic sentiments

It is the media's duty to stop the perpetuation of such hateful, cowardly beliefs rather than play a significant role in enabling them. 

Yet, media organizations continue to jump to religious extremism when faced with a story involving violence and Muslims. The case is often something different: mental health, domestic violence, drug crime.

The American media must make large strides in enhancing diversity and promoting coverage of minority communities--whether it is race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. 

There are accomplishments to point to, though.

Sara Morrison lists several success stories in reporting on the transgender community in her column for Nieman Reports. An investigation by Fusion exposed mistreatment of trans illegal immigrants and led to new ICE guidelines for trans detainees.

One can simply look at the praise Kaitlyn Jenner has received during her transition and see a media culture attempting to become progressive.

There is much work to be done, but with diversity and fairness built from within, media coverage can gain the trust of minority communities.

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