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Black Broadcasters Sound Off On Covering Black Community

L.A.Watts Times, News Report, Darlene Donloe Posted: Mar 01, 2009

Unfair, unbalanced and the overabundance of negative reporting about the black community has often been a complaint among many. There is concern that not only does such reporting paint an inaccurate portrait of a particular ethnic group, but it also sets a dangerous pattern.

Images shown by the media play a role in influencing attitudes toward blacks. Many in the community believe that the over-use of negative images has resulted in a lack of confidence when it comes to entrusting outsiders to tell the black communitys story.

So the question becomes: Are black journalists the only ones capable of accurately and fairly reporting on the black community? Or is the black reporter caught in a Catch-22, stuck between getting it right for his or community and being professionally pigeon holed? If they cover only the black community, they run the danger of becoming known as a reporter who can only cover black stories. If they cover only the mainstream stories, theyd be entrusting someone else to tell the black communitys story.

Should their loyalties be to their media outlets or to their communities? There are lots of questions and just as many answers. Many find themselves walking a tightrope.

To get a clearer picture of just what black broadcasters are faced with on a daily basis, the L.A. Watts Times went straight to the source, asking local black broadcasters these questions:

As an insider, what is your perspective on how the media covers the black community? Have you attempted to contribute toward covering the black community?
BEVERLY WHITE (NBC4 anchor/reporter) I can only speak for the electronic media, which I believe adequately covers the black community but can do much more. The industry should employ more black people (in front of and behind the camera) and encourage diversity in sourcing and in story selection.

The responsibility to cover our community without fear or favor must never rest solely with black reporters. I pitch ideas and handle all manner of assignments. My non-black counterparts should do the same. Anyone who knows my work knows I try to cover the black community every way I can with contacts who enhance my storytelling beyond race and sports, or entertainment and crime. I keep an eye out for distinct voices from mudslides to market issues, violence to Valentines Day. I strive to include people who look like me because it deepens my reporting and often helps defy stereotypes, one sound bite at a time. I see that as my mission as an African American journalist.

TONY COX (NPR News and Notes host) How the media covers the black community depends on which media youre referring to. The mainstream press doesnt cover the black community at all. It looks for stories of general interest, and if those happen to involve black folks in particular, then chances are youll see something written or broadcast.

And even that depends on what market your outlet is in and how large the black audience is. The black press covers the black community all the time. They just dont have the resources to cover it as effectively as is sometimes warranted. And because the black press has to compete for advertising dollars, like all media, their story selection is often dictated by what sells and will generate the most revenue. Thats when even the black press becomes more selective about what it does and doesnt cover. In the end, the black community suffers either way.

CHRIS SCHAUBLE (NBC4 anchor) The media does a poor and shallow job of covering the African American community (myself included). However, its due mostly to a lack of resources that all newsrooms face, as opposed to a willful disregard. As TV newsrooms shift to the concept of photojournalists (reporters carrying their own cameras while also presenting the story), there will be more of us beating the street. I think there will be more room for the individual newsperson to influence coverage ... more stories, yes the positive ones, will get told.

I find that while I cannot always influence news coverage, I can make sure the African American community knows it has my support. I emcee countless events within the black community and only say no when it conflicts with another engagement (or when my wife tells me to slow it down).

MARC BROWN (ABC7 anchor) Having grown up in Los Angeles, I have watched the evolution of the news medias coverage of the African American community. It used to be fairly one-dimensional and primarily negative. It no longer is. I feel very good about how ABC7, in particular, covers the black community. We try to cover African Americans, as we do every other community in Los Angeles, with fairness, sensitivity and across a broad spectrum.

Were able to do it because we have a very diverse staff both in front of and behind the camera. Some of the stories Ive covered over the last few months include the Eso Won Bookstore and its struggle to survive, an African American funeral director in South L.A. who handles victims of gang violence, and the inauguration of Barack Obama. These stories, while of special significance to African Americans, I believe are important to everyone.

BOBBY HOWE (KTYM radio public affairs director) Black press should give equal time to the good done by blacks and less to the not-so-good I am on air 10-15 times a week, and I present the Other Side of War and Conversations with the Community. There is always the good, the bad and the ugly. I make sure I talk to the good being done in our community, but if I must report on the ugly, I make sure I have some solutions to the bad news.

Related Articles:

Rank-and-File Begin to Question Bailey Probe

The Chauncey Bailey Project

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