How Well Does News Media Cover Race? [Report]

In a new report, Colorlines' publisher, Race Forward, analyzes nearly 1,200 articles and television transcripts to see how the mainstream media deals with racism and offers solutions to flawed media coverage.

By Dominique Apollon Jan 22, 2014

If you’re a regular visitor to this site, chances are you feel that mainstream media typically do a poor job covering the depth and complexities of contemporary racism in the United States. You’ve probably noticed how media focus on whether or not Paula Deen or some other celebrity or public figure is intentionally racist, rather than on the institutional and structural root causes of the racial disparities that continue plague our society.

Well, as Jay Smooth tells you in attached video, you can quantify that intuition with a new report, "Moving the Race Conversation Forward." The report comes from the researchers at Race Forward, publisher of Colorlines, who analyzed nearly 1,200 newspaper articles and transcripts from cable TV outlets  from 2013, and found that two thirds of race-focused coverage either emphasized alleged individual racism or prioritized voices that dismissed the persistence of racism as a significant force in our country today.

The report refers to this kind of coverage as "systemically absent" content, in contrast to "systemically aware" content that at least highlights policies and practices such as racial profiling or voter suppression that lead to racial disparities. As the latter term is defined, the media didn’t have to explicitly use terms like "institutional racism," "structural racism" or "systemic racism" to be classified as "systemically aware," but even with this low bar, the performance was poor.

The image below shows you the variations in the extent of "systemically aware" content across the most popular topics covered last year. Race-focused coverage (i.e., articles and transcripts that used the words "racism," "racist," "racial," or "diversity" in the opening paragraphs) on the economy and criminal justice cracked just above the 50 percent mark for "systemically aware" content, but more than 90 percent of entertainment-focused articles were "systemically absent." A close look at the column at right reveals that the most popular race-focused topics were politics, criminal justice, entertainment, race relations/identity, and sports. Together they accounted for about three-quarters of all racism coverage last year. Part One of the report identifies the extent of "systemically aware" content in most of the highest circulation newspapers in the country and the three major cable outlets. And in part two, Race Forward provides case studies of recent racial justice interventions designed to disrupt the dominant frames and narratives that negatively impact people of color. For more, check out the report on