A new Pew Research Center report released Tuesday centers on Black Americans and their experiences, habits and attitudes around news and information.
Key findings touch on everything from how news coverage of Black people is perceived to how coverage can be improved.
In 1967, the report notes, the Kerner Commission (which was undertaken by then-President Lyndon Johnson’s administration to investigate the causes behind urban riots) took a harsh view of the news media’s stance toward Black Americans. It cited sensationalist and divisive coverage, and found news media represented Black communities inaccurately and unfairly.
“More than half a century later, there is continued discussion of many of the themes raised in the report,” the 63-page report reads. “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. The focus on the Black population allowed the Center to tailor the study to the experiences of Black Americans rather than comparing them to other groups.”
Below is a summary of some of the findings:
- Almost two-thirds of Black adults (63%) say news about Black people is often more negative than news about other racial and ethnic groups, while 28% say it is about equal and 7% say it is often more positive.
- At least half (57%) of Black adults say the news they see or hear about Black people only covers certain segments of Black communities or is often missing important information (50%). According to the study, 9% of those surveyed say it covers a wide variety of Black people and often reports the full story, and 14% say that it is extremely or very likely that Black people will be covered fairly in their lifetimes.
- Forty-three percent say the coverage largely stereotypes Black people, far higher than the 11% who say it largely does not stereotype. “These critical views of coverage of Black people are widely shared within the Black population, regardless of age, gender and even political party affiliation,” the report reads.
Researchers surveyed 4,742 U.S. Black adults from Feb. 22 to March 5, and held nine online focus groups of Black Americans facilitated between July and August 2022.
Throughout the report are quotes from participants in the nine online focus groups. Regarding problems in news coverage of Black people, one 55-year-old Black woman had this to say: “(News about Black people) is not accurate. They overemphasize the bad, and not some of the good things that are happening in the community, or if they do talk about the good things, it’s just a blurb and they want to focus on the one thing (that) was just terrible.”
One question Pew asked that may be of particular interest to journalists: “How can news coverage of Black people improve?” The survey asked about several practices for journalists when covering Black people, and found: “Among those who report at least sometimes seeing racist or racially insensitive coverage about Black people, nearly two-thirds (64%) identify educating all journalists about issues impacting Black Americans as an extremely or very effective way of making coverage fairer.”
Other suggestions to improve coverage: Include more Black people as sources, according to 54% of those surveyed; and hire more Black people as newsroom leaders (53%) and more Black journalists (44%) at news outlets.
Katerina Eva Matsa, the managing director of the center’s news and information research team, said this new study builds on the work the Pew Research Center has been doing around Black Americans for the past decade.
Matsa said she hopes members of the public will see all different aspects of the relationship people have with the news media — in this case, Black Americans.
“I know there has been so much conversation about news from diversity and how the news covers black Americans, but I feel that this study puts numbers and confirms a lot of those conversations, or doesn’t confirm some of these conversations,” she said. “And I’m very proud of that — to have that out there, and help people understand not everything, but part of what is happening.”