Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Power of Words When Reporting on Diversity

Gabby Hollowell

As journalists, we can’t go about our jobs assuming our audience won’t notice our actions. We have more power than we think we do. The public trusts us with our words. In order to keep their trust, we need to make sure we report fairly on sometimes overlooked issues such as race and sexuality.

On Race

More than half of African-Americans and Hispanics believe the media inaccurately portrays or doesn’t report enough on people of their race. If newspapers had a section dedicated to news about black people, we would be converting back to our old ways of having “colored” and “white” signs. I still don’t understand why on campus, there are journalism and other organizations specifically for black people. Why can’t we all be integrated as one? Because we are one, therefore we should be equally covered. I feel like the portrayal of black people in the media is often in negative situations. For example, all the police shootings involving black people. I’ve noticed that a lot of crime coverage and sad stories on the Cleveland news channels involve black people as well. They show shabby neighborhoods, which I feel gives them a bad reputation. 

Last semester, I did a multimedia project on diversity. I heard from a black reporter who felt discriminated against at work. His colleagues assumed he was the “sports guy” because he was black. He also was looked down on as if he was less educated and didn’t know as much as everyone else in the newsroom.

Muslims, on the other hand, have been associated with terrorism since 9/11 because that’s the only way the media portrays them -- as dangerous people. I’ve only seen special documentaries where Muslims express their feelings about how they are viewed in America, and it's heartbreaking.

On Sexuality

Trans Media Watch conducted a study on how transgender people experience the media. They asked how often respondents saw items about trans people in the media:
  •        5% said they saw them daily;
  •       14% two to three times a week;
  •        18% once a week;
  •        20.5% two to three times a month;
  •        24% once a month
  •        19% less often than that.

Seventy-eight percent felt that the media portrayals they saw were either inaccurate or highly inaccurate and 55 percent would like to see representations of trans people more often. Journalists struggle with asking the right questions because they face invading their privacy. Of course, accuracy is important, but this can’t be a reason to shy away from reporting about these topics.

An article from Nieman Reports stated, “violence perpetrated against transgender people is a real concern in the community, especially for women of color.” Since I’ve never heard this was an issue until reading the article, this proves a point that the media does an awful job covering transgender people. I think the Caitlyn Jenner story is a step in the right direction to start covering transgender people, especially because this was such a big story. A once sculpted, male athlete appeared as a beautiful woman on the cover of Vanity Fair. However, maybe the media should have used this to their advantage – particularly magazine media. This would have been a prime opportunity to do feature articles on transgender people to paint a broader picture than just “coming out.”
Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair; a step forward in better coverage of transgender people in the media.

Let’s make an effort to be inclusive journalists. All of the ethics codes call for fair reporting. We are all human, and we all deserve equality – in our everyday lives and in the media.

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