Inside Disparities Of Digital Media Reporting And The African-American Market
Race and business are intersecting at a rapid rate.
From the CEO of Papa John’s Pizza and the executive at Netflix using the “N” word, and the latest Starbucks incident around race, to the Black Yale student race-related incident and Ving Rhames being held at gunpoint for entering his own home — there is a cultural trend of mistrust, social bias and disrespect that is, sadly, part of the tone of America right now. But when those who are targeted are also at a disadvantage for reporting such incidents, is the issue exacerbated?
Strangely, in an era of a 24/7 news cycle simultaneously coinciding with both an increasingly “minority majority” population in the United States, statistics which consistently demonstrate that those of color (particularly women) out-index those of non-color in digital consumption, the rise of powerful, well-funded news media outlets owned by people of color (especially women), appointments as senior decision-makers at news media organizations and even simple inclusion in the curation of fellow news sites that “matter” in daily e-blasts by such respected tech news outlets at Recode, is nearly non-existent.
Given that the perceptions of society are largely shaped by the media that they produce, the lack of voice in this space is troubling for America as a whole because the entire sentiment is never fully represented or understood. This means that business and social decisions are made with only partial information thus leading to an overall weakening of the social fabric and place on the competitive stage of the world at large.
It is particularly crucial to examine such concerns and data now. Even though technology has been developed which should tip the scales, not much has moved past the days of the 60s when John Johnson launched Ebony. To wit, Pew Research just released statistics on the state of media ownership, consumption and impact in a report entitled “Hispanic and African American News Media Fact Sheet.” Essentially there are stark declines over a number of verticals for a number of reasons. The economics around the space are beyond pitiful.
It is alarming when incidents around race and gender, such as the recent firing of the president of Paramount Television, are “broken” by Twitter, which continues to be driven by Black Twitter but which still suffers from lack of staff- and board diversity.
It’s fascinating to track news coverage approaches, depending upon the outlet. For example, the usually more-than-thorough, smartly written “Vanity Fair” piece on the topic was surprisingly business-as-usual, perhaps due to the fact that even though the magazine has now included such figures as Kendrick Lamar and Lena Waithe as cover subjects, the staff and contributor level remains largely Caucasian.
In comparison, outlets run by a staff primarily of color often reported the incident with greater depth and a bit more dot-connecting, such as The Grio.
In addition, when one looks at further data around such a story, the first 50 outlets in a Google search included only one owned by an entity of color.
Similarly, the recent mainstream coverage around singer R. Kelly’s “I Admit” not only typically refers back to “sanctioned” previous coverage from Buzzfeed’s Jim DeRogatis, creating an even deeper gap of which gatekeepers’ reporting is more valid, but also many of the same mainstream outlets omitted coverage entirely of R.Kelly’s wife answering back to “I Admit” via a remix. Curiously, such urban-focused outlets as Vibe and BET, for example, picked this item up, creating a full circle, whereas other outlets such as USA Today, which covered the release of the single and further crowned DeRogatis, did not.
In an era with such a confluence of events, greater equality directly in the digital media space will probably be one of the next big national narratives. Lack of diversity, stereotypes and widening wealth gap will continue to persist, particularly in terms of Black females, if the media continues to be skewed.
Watch for new voices and various emerging tech platforms to help create a major trend shift ahead.