George Floyd and Black Lives Matter sign

George Floyd and Black Lives Matter Activist

The racial awakening after the death of George Floyd didn’t spark a great reaction from mainstream media outlets.

By contrast, Floyd’s murder and the global protests that ensued further espoused the importance of the Black Press, and again revealed the dire straits of people of color face if there is no Black Press of America.

A City University of New York’s (CUNY) Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism study found that Black media publishes as much as six times more coverage than mainstream outlets on issues of importance to Black communities, including racism, health disparities, and voting access.

Released on Wednesday, October 6, 2021, the study, Why Black Media Matters Now, found that nearly one in four articles in Black media mentioned racism or related issues, as compared with less than one in 10 in mainstream media.

“Within coronavirus coverage, Black media wrote five times more on the disproportionate racial impact of the pandemic and nearly twice as much on frontline and essential workers,” CUNY researchers found.

The study concluded that Black media “stood out in its focus on a variety of other health issues of particular relevance to Black communities, including maternal health, hypertension, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and sickle cell disease.”

“It also led the way in coverage of voting access, racism, and stories that humanize the individuals and groups in the news,” the authors wrote.

“Nearly 200 years later, Black media continue to create a space where Black folks can speak for ourselves about issues of importance and combat stereotypes that harm us.”

This role of the Black press was both needed and visible over the past 18 months when the convergence of the worst pandemic in US history and state violence both were disproportionately impacting Black Americans, the researchers further acknowledged. This report, a comparative content analysis of the Black press and US mainstream media, shows the ways that Black media have continued the tradition started by the Journal in a contemporary context.

The researchers concluded: “Black media were important in 1827, and they are just as critical today.”

Other highlights of the report include:

• Within coronavirus coverage, Black media wrote five times more than mainstream media on the disproportionate racial impact of the pandemic, and nearly twice as much as mainstream media on frontline and essential workers.

• Black media covered a variety of health issues of particular relevance to Black communities at higher levels than mainstream media, including maternal health, hypertension, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and sickle cell disease.

• The issue of voting access was included in 12% of all politics stories in Black media, which is more than twice the percentage for mainstream media (5%).

• Black media leads the way on stories related to racism, putting focus on these stories at higher levels and earlier in the news cycle than mainstream media.

• Black media centers the community in coverage and humanizes the individuals and groups in the news.

• Black media used the word “Black” frequently in coverage, in an explicit naming of Black people and communities in reporting the news. The word “Black” was consistently in the most frequently used 100 words across assorted topics, and in many cases was uniquely prevalent when compared with the top words used by mainstream media.

• Black media consistently had certain social identities emphasized for a variety of topics – community, family, women, and children foremost among them. Mainstream media did not use these words with similar frequency.

• Black media connects news events across subjects to cover wider issues of injustice, including threats to voting access, disparities in medical care, and policing and mass incarceration.

• Black media provides historical context to present day challenges. This is done by explicitly including historical events in related breaking news, as well as by linking related news events such as police killings of Black people.

In a world and nation that is undergoing historic change, a steady and confident force now and in the future is the Black Press. It is constant, and as proven by the CUNY study, it is very much needed.

The commentary was published by the National Newspaper Publishers Association

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