As discussions surrounding fair and informed journalism continue, it remains clear that many Black Americans are eager to see changes in news coverage that accurately reflect their experiences and perspectives. That perspective became more pronounced with the release of a new report by the Pew Research Center, which sheds light on the perceptions of Black Americans regarding news coverage that often portrays them negatively compared to other racial and ethnic groups.
Based on a comprehensive survey of 4,742 U.S. Black adults conducted from February 22 to March 5, 2023 along with nine online focus groups held between July and August 2022, African Americans have expressed a growing desire for fair and informed reporting. The key findings of the multi-method report provide a nuanced understanding of Black Americans’ views on news coverage include:
1) Perceptions of coverage: The report reveals that 63% of Black Americans believe that news coverage about Black people tends to be more negative than that of other racial and ethnic groups. Additionally, 57% of Black adults feel that news about Black people only covers certain segments of their communities, while 50% think it often lacks essential information. Only nine percent believe that the news adequately covers a diverse range of Black experiences and consistently provides the whole story. Worryingly, just 14% of Black Americans are optimistic that fair coverage of Black people will become a reality in their lifetimes, with 38% believing it is unlikely to happen.
2) Steps for improvement: A significant majority of Black Americans, 76%, emphasize the importance of journalists covering all sides of an issue when reporting on Black people, while 73% stress the necessity of understanding the historical context behind the stories. Roughly half (48%) also call for journalists to advocate for Black people when covering them. Furthermore, 64% of those who have encountered racially insensitive coverage believe that educating all journalists about issues affecting Black Americans would be highly effective in achieving fairer news coverage. A substantial proportion also supports the inclusion of more Black voices as sources (54%), the hiring of more Black individuals as newsroom leaders (53%), and journalists (44%).
3) Newsroom representation: Many Black Americans believe that Black journalists play a crucial role in reporting race and racial inequality news. Approximately 45% feel that Black journalists excel at covering these issues, with 44% stating that Black journalists better understand them. However, few Black Americans consider the journalist’s race as a key factor in the credibility of a news story, with just 14% believing it is vital for news to come from Black journalists, regardless of the topic.
4) Concerns across the Black population: Concerns about negative news coverage are widespread among Black Americans, transcending political affiliations. Both Black Republicans and Black Democrats (including leaners) express similar concerns, with 46% of Republicans and 44% of Democrats agreeing that coverage often stereotypes Black people. This starkly contrasts with the 11% in both groups who believe it does not. Additionally, Black Americans with higher education and income levels tend to hold more negative views regarding the media’s coverage of Black people.
5) Role of Black identity: Black Americans’ perceptions of news coverage vary significantly based on their identity. The vast majority (82%) of those who consider being Black highly important to their identity emphasize the importance of journalists understanding the historical context of stories. This number decreases to 55% among those who place less importance on their Black identity.
6) Sources of news and information: The report also delves into news sources for Black Americans. At least a third of Black Americans report getting news from local news outlets, national news outlets, social media sites, and friends, family, and acquaintances. Notably, 24% state that they often receive news from Black news outlets, with an additional 40% occasionally turning to them.
The margin of sampling error for the survey’s total sample of 4,742 respondents is plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.
“In 1967, the Kerner Commission (undertaken by President Lyndon Johnson’s administration to investigate the causes behind urban riots) took a harsh view on the news media’s stance toward Black Americans,” the report’s researchers wrote. “The commission’s report cited sensationalist and divisive coverage as well as inaccurate and unfair representations of Black communities, concluding that ‘the journalistic profession has been shockingly backward in seeking out, hiring and promoting’ Black people, and ‘the press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with White men’s eyes and White perspective.
“More than half a century later, there is continued discussion of many of the themes raised in the report. This new study asks Black Americans themselves about their experience with news today, including views around portrayals of Black people in news stories, representation in newsrooms, and where they go and whom they trust for information.”