As protests against police violence and racial injustice swept the country and a pandemic disproportionately claimed Black lives, Black-owned media covered these events earlier, in more depth, and with more Black voices than their mainstream counterparts. That’s the essence of a groundbreaking content analysis released today by the Black Media Initiative of the Center for Community Media at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.
“Many people speak of the importance of Black media in the context of history,” Black Media Initiative Director Cheryl Thompson-Morton said of the sector, which has been vibrant in communities across the country since the early 19th century. “This research shows why Black media is critical today. It provides data and backing of what Black media publishers have been telling us for years. My hope is that this report spurs more support and investment in the sector.”
The report, “Why Black Media Matters Now,” analyzed the coverage of nearly 100 Black-owned news outlets over 15 momentous months between March 2020 and May 2021. In general, it 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.
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.
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.
Black media connects news events across subjects to cover wider issues of injustice, and it provides historical context to present day challenges and breaking news. For example, according to the report, the “Tuskegee experiment is prominently featured in Black media’s coverage of medical mis/distrust. Jim Crow is emphasized in coverage of mass incarceration. Lynching is frequently included in coverage of slavery and Juneteenth. Even the word ‘history’ itself is uniquely prevalent in Black media across a diversity of topics.” It also humanizes its subjects by using terms like communities, family, men, women, and children more frequently than mainstream media.
The report said “the most marked difference in coverage levels at peak dates is for the subtopic of white supremacy/privilege. This points to a difference in framing between Black media and mainstream media of Floyd’s murder and aftermath, where Black media were bringing in the thematic issue of white supremacy.”