The role of race in the recent hate-fueled violence — along with President Trump's increasingly brazen embrace of racist stereotypes and language — has highlighted the news media's struggles in talking about race, hate and other painful issues of divisiveness, Axios' Ursula Perano writes.
- Why it matters: News organizations are expected to stick to the facts and avoid taking sides, but they're under growing pressure not to mislabel statements and actions that most Americans would consider racist.
- And the lack of diversity in newsrooms means many have blind spots on issues of race that become obvious in their coverage.
Driving the news: The New York Times came under fire Monday night for the first-edition headline "Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism" on an article about the president's remarks on mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.
- While the article itself was considered fair, the headline was criticized for focusing solely on Trump’s remarks, and disregarding the hostility of his previous tweets and statements.
- The Times changed the headline for the next edition to: "Assailing Hate Not Guns." (See the two headlines.)
- Times executive editor Dean Baquet told The Atlantic's Lizzie O’Leary: "Part of our job is to make the country look itself in the face."
The big picture: Across the board, newsrooms have drawn backlash for their coverage of recent events.
- Lulu Garcia-Navarro, host of NPR’s "Weekend Edition Sunday," writes for The Atlantic that many newsrooms failed to fully address the shooting in El Paso as it relates to hate. While mass shootings have become alarmingly common, ones where the victims are hunted because of their ethnicity are less so. The shooter admitted to police he drove 650 miles to the Texas Walmart to shoot Mexicans.
- Politico was criticized for writing that Trump's tweets attacking Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and his Baltimore district, which is primarily black, were a continuation of his "racially charged drumbeat." As many on Twitter noted, racism is not a song.
- And we've been wrong as well. Axios first dubbed the tweets against the congresswomen a "nativist attack." After internal discussions, we decided to characterize such comments as "racist" in future coverage.
- But NPR got backlash for calling the tweets racist, with public editor Elizabeth Jensen writing that her inbox was filled with "passionate (and yes, often angry)" reader and listener responses against the decision.
Between the lines: The standards of journalism require us to avoid emotional judgment in order to provide a factual report. Describing statements or actions as racist when they are is part of factual reporting.
- Columbia University's Bill Grueskin, a former journalist, told AP that the stakes now are similar to the civil rights movement, a moral issue that was so clear that some reporters abandoned their usual reluctance to suggest who was right and wrong.
Newsrooms could improve in several ways:
- Newsrooms are still overwhelmingly white. While there's been improvement, a 2016 study from the American Society of News Editors found that the minority workforce in traditional print and digital news publications only reached 17%. When underserved voices are not given a role in coverage, that coverage suffers.
- What makes journalists different, be it sexuality, gender identity, race or ethnicity, can often be seen as a bias. In fact, these differences strengthen coverage and make news stories more accurate.
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