Black media, representation

New Study: Black Americans Express Concerns Over Media Depictions

In a comprehensive study conducted by the Pew Research Center, Black Americans have voiced significant concerns about the portrayal of their communities in the media, highlighting issues of racism, negative depictions, and a lack of comprehensive coverage. 

According to The Seattle Times, the survey, conducted three years after George Floyd’s killing, provides insights into Black attitudes toward the media, and the findings reveal an urgent need for more inclusive and nuanced reporting.

The study, which surveyed nearly 5,000 Black adults this past winter and conducted follow-up focus groups, paints a disheartening picture of how many Black Americans perceive their portrayal in the news media. A striking four in five Black adults claim to regularly witness racist or racially insensitive depictions of their race in the news. 

This troubling statistic underscores the persistence of racial biases within the industry. Unpacking the survey’s results, 63% of respondents believed that news stories about Black people are often more damaging than stories about other racial or ethnic groups. A smaller percentage, 28%, felt that such coverage was about equal in its portrayal.

According to the article, Charles Whitaker, dean of the Medill journalism school at Northwestern University, commented on these findings, noting that dissatisfaction among Black Americans regarding their media portrayal is far from surprising. He emphasized that Black Americans often find themselves reduced to simplistic roles as either perpetrators or victims of crime in news stories, with little room for the complexity and nuance that should accompany those stories.

The Pew study also revealed that 57% of respondents felt that the media selectively covers certain segments of Black communities, while only 9% believe that various perspectives are depicted. This observation calls for deeper inclusivity and representation within newsrooms to ensure that the full spectrum of Black experiences is authentically portrayed.

The article shares that one possible solution, as suggested by Richard Prince, a columnist for the Journal-isms newsletter, is to provide more context in news coverage. He believes that the media should recognize that Black people, like everyone else, have a range of concerns beyond just those related to African-American issues. Prince pointed out that advertising often better depicts Black people in everyday situations, such as raising families or deciding where to dine, and urges the news industry to follow suit.

Surprisingly, the study found slight variations in attitudes toward news coverage between Black Democrats and Republicans, indicating that this issue transcends partisan divides. Negative attitudes about media portrayals tend to increase with higher income and education levels. For instance, 57% of lower-income respondents believed that news coverage about Black people was more negative than that of other groups, while this number rose to 75% among wealthier respondents.

The article states that despite the desire for change, most of those surveyed, regardless of age, expressed limited confidence that significant improvements would occur in their lifetime. The study highlighted the urgent need for media organizations to address these concerns and work toward a more inclusive and representative approach to reporting.

As the journalism landscape evolves, educators at institutions like Northwestern University emphasize the importance of understanding the communities they cover, moving away from “parachute journalism” and towards a more informed and connected approach. Additionally, the industry has seen progress in hiring Black journalists into leadership roles; however, challenges remain.


This article was written by Black Enterprise contributor Rafael Pena.