Darren Walker Reflects on the Polling Results Released on the Coverage of Race in the News Media 50 Years Post-Kerner Commission
America's alarming disunion is evident any time you turn on the news or read the paper. But a recent survey commissioned by the Ford Foundation indicates that our disconnect goes beyond our political disagreements—that our division may be exacerbated by the makeup of our media.
The survey’s primary goal was to analyze coverage of race in American news media, and to understand how different segments of the population perceive that coverage. We learned that perceptions differ widely between communities. When asked how African Americans are portrayed in the media, for example, 62 percent of African-American respondents answered that coverage is more negative than reality, while only 46 percent of white respondents believed that to be the case. When asked whether “the media makes race relations seem worse than they are,” 59 percent of white respondents agreed, compared to 37 percent of African-American respondents.
In other words, people who are underrepresented in the media have a very different view of its coverage than people who are overrepresented. And there are consequences. Both African-American and Hispanic respondents believed white communities are portrayed more positively than reality—while only a little over a quarter of white people surveyed agreed.
These results make sense, given what we know about American newsrooms. According to a 2017 survey conducted by the American Society of News Editors, a mere one out of six American newsroom employees are racial minorities—a minor decline from 2016. Meanwhile, data from the Radio Television Digital News Association reveals that the percentage of people of color in this country has increased by more than 12 percent over the past 27 years, yet during that time, American television news only became 6.6 percent more diverse—and radio less than 1 percent more so.