Posted by: jstrieder | October 16, 2014

Black, White, and Read All Over

I see that Ferguson is turning up in this blog lately, and so far we haven’t broached what for journalists may be the most provocative question posed by the events in that town and how they were covered: Would more journalists of color have provided better journalism?

A provocative post on Jezebel challenged the editorial decisions regarding Ferguson at the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the New York Times: “I can hear you coming up with all sorts of rationalizations for how and why the words and the images are what they are in these two publications (and in others like them). But let me ask you something: are you white? Because the majority of journalists in American newsrooms are. Less than 15% of newsroom employees are people of color (POC), and that’s a problem.”

This question isn’t confined to Ferguson. After the New York Times published a profile of a TV show creator that leaned heavily on a stereotype, Times public editor Margaret Sullivan implied that a more integrated editorial staff would have flagged the obnoxious column.

Are these critics right? Maybe not. Pam Shoemaker and Stephen Reese address the issue in Mediating the Message in the 21st Century, and their conclusion is a resounding question mark. Minority journalists adopt the same “routines” as white pros, they say (161), in part to avoid “professional conflict” (218-219).

Maybe more editors and publishers of color would help. But why would the people at the top step aside?

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