Many U.S. newsrooms still lack diversity

The result is distorted, negative imagery of Blacks

Bryant K. Smith
Bryant K. Smith

Blacks in recent months have been negatively portrayed in news reports locally and nationally, whether as criminal or victim. “It is open season on Blacks and other minorities’ images and identities,” noted author and consultant Bryant K. Smith. Such media portrayals “fit a certain societal norm,” he added.

Smith regularly speaks on the power of media in shaping and promoting negative images of Blacks and other people of color. He spoke in October at Winona State University on “Media Management of Minority Images.”

During an MSR phone interview, Smith pointed out that this open season isn’t restricted to U.S. media but is a universal practice, calling it “a global supremacist type of view. If you are trying to convince people around the world that a group of people are inherently bad…every time one member of the group acts up, they find a way to connect the entire group.”

National Public Radio Media Critic Eric Deggans agrees with Smith. “When White people fail or break the law or do something dysfunctional, they’re seen as individuals and not seen as the entire race. Black people don’t have the luxury [of this].

“There’s a generalized fear of young Black males,” Deggans said. “I think right now there is a continuum from Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown to where we are now.”

During an MSR one-on-one interview in November, Deggans pointed out that there are too many newsrooms in America that lack enough diversity to make intelligent decisions on how to cover stories that involve race, but he refuses to label White journalists who use negative racial imagery in their stories as “racist.”

“I don’t know if you are a racist,” he said. “As a journalist, I can’t look into your head. All I can do is look at what you’ve done. I can look at a story and critique that.”

However, the journalist says he doesn’t advocate governmental intervention in “judging” news stories. “I don’t want the FCC judging news content. I don’t want a government body judging news content,” noted Deggans, but added that too many news operations today seemingly don’t want to be transparent in how they report. “You don’t get transparency from the journalism that demands transparency from everybody else.”

“Why do [the media] go after all the Black people [and] decide not to include any White people” in its reporting? asked Smith. “It’s the idea or the concept that all these people easily [are] wrong is what you want to promote.” He instead suggests better “journalistic preparation” at colleges and universities.

“When you take students who might come from rural areas, who haven’t been exposed to people of color, and [put] them through a journalism training program [or] media training program, you haven’t done anything to teach them how to be fair and balanced” in their reporting.

As a result, Smith said, these new journalists, many of whom aren’t culturally trained, “bring every notion that they ever experience and everything they’ve seen in media their whole lives, which tends to be negative when it comes to people of color. Now you are giving them responsibility for covering areas and people that they have no connection to or knowledge of.”

He also added that negative reporting of Blacks in mainstream media isn’t done only White reporters. Some Blacks “unfortunately have bought into the mainstream system,” said Smith.

He warned, “If we don’t start controlling the media and set some standards and journalistic integrity, and hold them accountable to these standards,” such negative imagery of Blacks will continue. “The issue is not whether or not you are good or bad, a Black or White person,” said Smith. “The issue is what type of media we want to have and when we are going to change the type of media.

“When are we going to say that this type of media is the problem?”

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