Pitt Summit: Black male stereotyping by media

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Disparities in mainstream media depictions of Black males pile on to an already bleak scenario that impedes the potential of progress.

A day-long invitation-only summit presented by the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Public Affairs reviewed results of a study commissioned by the Heinz Endowments to research the content of local news coverage of young Black males in the media.

The findings underscored and gave credence to the perception and prevalence of stereotypical views of Black males. In many instances it serves to reinforce negative images.

LarryDavis
LARRY E. DAVIS

Keynote speaker Mark Lamont Hill, PhD., an English professor at Columbia University, activist and media commentator, referenced a notion of remembrance based a historical context that fits a preferred narrative of stereotypical images that contribute to public policies.

Rather than rely on usual questions on the status of Black males, Hill suggested framing them differently, “Research must shift the analysis and ask different questions. Forty percent of expulsions (of Black males) are due to subjective judgment, so the question should be what’s pushing Black males out of school?”

Travis Dixon, an associate professor of communications at UCLA was part of the “Imagery in the News” panel that reported analysis of the research. When he queried the mostly Black audience if they listened to sensational news crime stories and hoped that the suspect wasn’t Black, there was a collective murmur and head-nodding of agreement.

The studies, by Miami-based Meyer Communications and by the Pew Research Center in D.C., used different statistical approaches but had similar findings regarding stories published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review and broadcast by television stations KDKA, WTAE and WPXI.

The Meyer content analysis found that during three months last year, the largest block of news stories involving Black men and youth were about crime – 86 percent of the news broadcasts and 37 percent of the newspaper stories.

“And crime coverage featuring Black men tended to get more prominent play in the news, with the stories more likely appearing atop the news page or at the beginning of the newscast,” the report said.

The Pew report found that the most frequent topics for news broadcasts involving African-American men were sports (43 percent) and crime (30 percent). In the newspapers, crime led all topics involving Black men at 43 percent.

Once crime stories were excluded, the content analysis found there were few other stories about Black males and the majority of them focused on sports and stories on coincidence, i.e. because the President or the police chief is a Black male.

“Scant coverage exists of African-American men and boys in the ‘quality of life’ topics: education, business/economy, environment, leadership/community and the arts,” the report said.

Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications Paula Poindexter, who moderated in the imagery panel, termed the findings as “borderline journalism malpractice.”

A panel of the most affected by media—young Black males—felt marginalized and written off by a media whose job is to hype and over-exaggerate an image of belligerent urban youth.

Ashton Gibbs, a Pitt varsity basketball team member and a senior majoring in communications, said the news pays more attention to what we do on the court, “but we do even better off the court.”

The consensus of the seven-member panel was that the over-arching perception of negativity makes excellence by Black males seem a surprising anomaly.

Internet media master Jasiri X, who produces and streams his topical viral-driven videos via YouTube, urged young Black males to take advantage of new media to shape the message and change perception.

Larry Davis, PhD., dean of Pitts’s School of Social Work, characterized media portrayal of Blacks as a “cycle of negativity internalized within the Black community.” In providing context for the social stereotypes, he also reminded that the United States has been a slave-holding country far long than it has been an emancipated one.

That suggestion mirrors the reason for the existence of the Black Press. “We need to tell our own story and plead our case,” said Rod Doss Editor and Publisher of the New Pittsburgh Courier. A panel of Black-owned media executives moderated by former Emerge Magazine publisher and NNPA head, George Curry, discussed the challenges of maintaining an independent voice in an increasing corporatized media environment.

John B. Smith Jr., publisher of the Atlanta Inquirer, reminded the gathering that the Black press has historically and continues to serve as the defense of last resort, citing the Troy Davis conviction. “Our paper championed the case long before the Atlanta Journal Constitution and other mainstream media got on board,” said Smith.

Tene Croom, former news director at American Urban Radio Networks, lamented the role of the Personal People Meter rating method in contributing to the demise of news coverage and the long-running and highly regarded Bev Smith syndicated talk show on her former network.

A concluding panel of regional media executives tackled the question: is there an over-emphasis on crime.

Rick Henry, recently retired general manager of local ABC-affiliate WTAE-TV said news is ratings driven and viewer dictated; “there’s (clearly) an appetite for it.”

David Shribman, executive editor of the Post-Gazette, said he didn’t believe that there was an emphasis, however did mention a recent string of articles on a high profile case of Amish on Amish crime involving beard-cutting.

Lorraine Branham, dean of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse noted that pervasiveness of institutional racism is reflected in mainstream media.

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