Journalistic conversations about race

By Samantha West

With the continuation of unarmed people of color being killed by police, obviously the awareness of how race is portrayed within the media has heightened. It is crucial journalists are not just reporting those deaths, but examining them further and trying to understand what exactly is behind them. It is their duty.

I understand these issues are difficult to address. When newsrooms are struggling to stay alive at all, when do busy reporters have the time to investigate further? We have to cover instances of crisis, so how do we address race appropriately?

After stumbling upon a piece from NPR entitled “Four Lessons From The Media’s Coverage of Race,” it became clear how little has changed since December 2014, when the story was first published.

The story elaborates on four main issues Eric Deggans, a TV critic for NPR, sees:

  • We don’t have the right conversations.
  • Trying to talk about systemic racial issues during a crisis is always much harder.
  • Cable news has sped up the path from news reporting to punditry with disastrous results.
  • Each cable news channel fine-tunes its coverage for its target audience, including how that target audience sees racial issues.

Deggans makes excellent points. What is problematic to me is these issues remain almost two years later.

When I think back on the shooting of Philando Castile, I noticed these issues recurring, particularly in discussing race during such a traumatic time.

Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds’ pain was evident in the statement she gave.

“I’m grieving the loss of a loved one, of a best friend, of a role model, and a father figure to my child,” she said. “You guys constantly keep asking me all of these disturbing questions, and I’ve already made my statement. I don’t want to keep reliving this moment.”

But her strength inspired further conversation.

“I want my justice,” Reynolds said. “I want the police officer’s name to go public and I want people to know who did this to us; who did this to our city, our state, our country.”

We must power through trauma and start conversations.

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