Reporting on Race Introduction

Local broadcasters hold a unique role in and have a singular relationship with local communities. Americans depend on local radio and television stations – their web sites included – for up-to-date information and real-time news. Civil unrest in a number of communities in recent years, resulting from police-involved shootings and growing community distress and dissent, has helped reinforce the value of local broadcast news while highlighting a need for broadcasters to consider ways to closely engage with diverse communities within their markets.

Most Americans get their local news from television and radio broadcasts and local broadcasters can play a significant role in helping communities talk across racial differences.

Diversity and inclusion is not always neatly packaged and achieving it – whether in terms of coverage or staffing – can be complex. Add to that the increased competition from a proliferation of media across multiple platforms and broadcasters face unprecedented challenges in covering the nation’s growing diversity and seemingly increasing racial tensions.

By developing greater skill in talking about race, journalists can become more comfortable aggressively covering contentious and sometimes divisive issues. The practices in this toolkit are intended to provide practical, usable options that are easily accessible and implementable. The intention is to help stations improve the breadth, depth and accuracy of coverage of communities of color and issues related to them. The initial report from which the committee that makes these recommendations is included as an addendum.

Bias vs. Bigotry

Recently the terms “implicit bias” and “unconscious bias” have been used more frequently in public discourse, especially as it relates to police shootings of African American suspects.

So, what is the difference between bias and bigotry (including racism and other forms)? Bigotry manifests as intolerance or prejudice against a group of people when it comes to such things as race, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs and more. Bigotry suggests strong negative emotions and forethought in actions. Bias, on the other hand, is much subtler and suggests an inclination toward something or the ability to be influenced by a negative feeling without giving it much thought.

An article published in the November 2016 issue of the journal Educational Leadership explains that all people harbor biases of one kind other, often based on things learned early in life. Author and education consultant Sarah Fiarman says tests for implicit bias show that people of all backgrounds demonstrate unconscious preferences about such things as gender, race, sexual orientation and other aspects of identity. The tests show most people favor the group they are a member of even when they claim to have no preference. However, an estimated one-third to half of people in culturally “stigmatized” groups show preferences for the “culturally valued group.”

In her article “Unconscious Bias: When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough,” Fiarman says such biases “influence us even when they are in direct opposition to our espoused beliefs – and sometimes in opposition to our own lived experience.

We may see a person of a different race and never think of them in a negative sense, but still react in subtle, negative ways. These feelings may be based on things we learned early in life through media portrayals, teachings from parents and elders, social interactions or personal experience. Unconscious bias may make a journalist more inclined to include a negative stereotype about someone from a particular ethnic group without giving it any thought.

Unconscious bias training is usually focused on helping us become more aware of our biases and confronting them so that we are less likely to act on them.

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