Archive for August, 2013

Racial Angst and the loss of Black Sentinels

August 9, 2013
 As a former Minority Journalism Program (MJP ’72)  graduate I totally agree with Ms. Maynard’s analysis of the current level of minority representation in media, particularly African Americans. Today’s media is so saturated with “pundits” offering opinions about media, that it is easy to forget they are not (for the most part) trained journalists. Every Black face seen giving “expe…rt” opinion on the latest tragedy in the African American community on the major networks, is not a “journalist”, many are experts in some other field with “audience potential”.
Add to this the fact that they are usually responding to stories about African Americans, and or their communities that were covered my (non-minority) journalists. Now add to this the issue of “class’ warfare and the number of journalists (including African Americans) without intimate knowledge about the inner workings of economically disadvantaged people and their communities and the number of true “minority” journalists decreases even more. Take a look at this portion of Ms. Maynard’s story:
          According to the 2013 survey, only 12.37 percent of full-time daily newspaper journalists last year were people of color. People of color make up 37 percent of the U.S. population. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that people of color will be 42 percent of the population by 2025.
  The nation and its news media are going in opposite directions, and the public is paying the price.
  To tell the stories of communities of color, we’re relying increasingly on people who may have little or no knowledge about them.
There are many reasons for this current situation, among them the growth of “Urban Media”, and the decline of the emphasis on “Black Media”.  I call it the “creaming of Black media”, resulting from the idea that there is no need to try and reach the Black market place by spending advertising dollars in Black press, because you can reach the same market advertising with/in “urban media” that reaches the same demographic. The problem with this approach is we forget that media is about more than advertising, that it is also about timely information delivered in a way that it’s urgency can be translated into action at the appropriate time; and when it comes to Black folks “psycho-graphics” is as important as demographics.
If you don’ think this is important, take a moment to think about Hurricane Katrina, and the fact that while much of the white media concentrated on the force of the winds, heading towards New Orleans, African Americans were in more danger from the water, and poorly maintained levees in their communities. Yet, there was insufficient effort to prepare a response in the event the levees did not hold, as there was to the fact that economically disadvantaged people would not be prepared to pack a bag, drive to the ATM withdraw a few hundred bucks, and head for a hotel on higher ground. The result, there were too few sentinels.
Now ask yourself how different things could have turned out if there had been more “sentinels” in media in and around New Orleans as the storm approached. Suppose they had been trained in the following manner referred to by Ms. Maynard:
Fault Lines, the Maynard Institute’s innovative diversity training program, asks journalists, when framing stories, to think about race, class, gender, generation and geography in much the same way as who, what, when, where why and how.
Minority journalists are “sentinels”, not movie stars, not fashion plates, not comedians, not simply “Best Selling Authors” but sentinels… the vigilant, ever alert eyes and ears to danger; the ever watchful eyes there to keep us aware of any danger to our quality of life, or any opportunity for the triumph of the human spirit, or to be a witness to the same.