A workshop to help journalists avoid stereotypes and caricatures in news coverage of minority communities, and include more minority representation in news coverage, was held at the Pyle center on the University of Wisconsin Madison campus on April 11, 2014. The workshop was presented by the Madison Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, with support from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, WISC-TV-Channel 3, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Wisconsin State Journal.
Session 1 – How diverse are your sources?
UW-Madison journalism professor Hemant Shah presented his research on race in the media. He offered numerous examples that highlighted a lack of fair representation of minority communities.
For example, in one 2006 study of local TV news in Los Angeles, news coverage of minority communities was compared with crime rates. Crime in the black community was overcovered but crime in the Latino community was actually undercovered.
A 2008 analysis of network news found that 75 percent of sources used by white reporters were white, while 50 percent of sources used by minority reporters were minorities.
One of the solutions to poor coverage of minorities has been increase the diversity in newsrooms. However, professor Shah said the evidence for the effectiveness of this approach has been mixed. Community outreach efforts, sending more reporters into minority communities, has been more effective. He also noted reports that Race & Media forums held in Madison in years past expanded minority coverage because as reporters’ social contacts expanded, so did their sources for stories.
Session 2 – Lessons from the minority press.
“The purpose of the Madison Times, the oldest minority community newspaper in Madison, is to fill the void,” said Madison Times publisher Ray Allen. “We provide a voice.” Luis Montoto, the owner of LaMovida Radio and Voz Latina newspaper, added, “We are not the Latino voice, were are a Latino voice, one of many, a beacon of information to the Latino community.
Montoto said that even if another Spanish language radio station came to Madison, he would still consider Facebook and Twitter his main competition, because his potential advertisers are using social media instead of his media outlets to reach customers.
Deanna Wright, who hosts and produces Madison Magazine: The TV Show, said, “We aim to serve the communities we try to reflect. I feel a sense of responsibility; sometimes it’s a heavy burden.”
Derrell Connor, the host of the Outreach radio program on WIBA-AM, was invited to begin his show after he expressed concerns about the lack of minority media coverage in Madison. “I wanted to bring more positive stories of people of color doing good things,” he said. “As board chair of the Urban League I had access to a lot of people who have those stories.”
Derrell’s advice to media members who want to improve minority coverage is to attend minority community activities. “To build trust just show up, and keep showing up,” he said.
A black woman who attends UW-Whitewater asked the panel if they ever get tired of being the only minority person in the room. The panelists all urged her to persevere. “You have to be there to educate others,” said Wright.
Ray Allen added, “Take it as a compliment that they cared to ask you. If you’re not on the table, you’re on the menu. If they ask you, you’re at the table.”
Session 3 – Enriching words and images, sources and stories.
“If you really want a good source on immigration, come to me,” said Anne Thundercloud, former spokeswoman for the Ho-Chunk Nation and the owner of Thundercloud communications. Her comment was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the stereotyping that often results in Latino news coverage involving just the one issue.
Thundercloud and the other three members of the panel noted that they all like to share their culture. “Be respectful and remember there are human beings behind the headlines,” said Peng Her, a former vice president with the Urban League. Nichelle Nichols, chief academic officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, and Brenda Gonzalez, community marketing equity manager for Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin, said there are many good stories to be told but the non-profits that work in the minority communities often don’t have the extra resources to push the stories out to the media.
Session 4 – Media Case Study: The Capital Times
The final session featured Capital Times city editor Katie Dean and news editor Jason Joyce discussing the recent decision to make the newspaper a public forum to discuss race relations. “We don’t typically hand over our cover to someone to tell their own story,” said Dean about the December first person article written by Madison pastor Alex Gee. “It kind of blew us away, the effect it had.”
Subsequent meetings and news coverage focused on building trust with the leaders of the Madison black community. Joyce admitted that the Capital Times has taken some heat for the lack of minority representation in the newsroom. They’re working on it. “Take a step back from making excuses and realize it won’t be easy,” he advised. “You may be the only white person in a room of minorities. Work on developing sources and establishing rapport.”
The Capital Times is sponsoring two upcoming events with Keith Woods, National Public Radio’s Vice President for Diversity. A training event for journalists will be held on April 23rd, co-sponsored with Wisconsin Public Radio, and a community discussion will be held April 24th at First Unitarian Church. A website is also being built to continue the special coverage.