Race and Ethnicity in Local Television News: Framing, Story Assignments, and Source Selections

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Although the news media landscape at the end of the 20th century had been filled with an array of news sources, more Americans turned to local television for news than any other medium. According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (2000), 56% of Americans watched local television news regularly but only 46% read newspapers regularly. Still fewer adults turned to network news (30%), CNN (21%), and news magazines (12%), and three days a week or more, 23% of Americans looked to the Internet for news. Because of its dominance as a news source, local television news may also be a dominant force in influencing perceptions of race and ethnicity in communities across America. By examining the presence and coverage of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans in local television news, it may be possible to identify how this dominant news source may be influencing how people of color are perceived and the implications of those perceptions.

Although the poor track records of the networks in representing people of color have been fairly well-documented (Carveth & Alverio, 1999; Entman, 1994; Roberts, 1975; Ziegler & White, 1990), there has been less evidence about local stations. Most studies on local television news have focused on one market (Entman, 1990, 1992; Entman & Rojecki, 2000), or a variety of markets on one given day (Campbell, 1995). What has been missing is a more comprehensive look at local television and its primary product, news. The goal of this study is to examine the presence and coverage of people of color in local television news in different geographic regions and across different newscasts, markets, and time periods.

News Media Representations of Race

One of the earliest systematic examinations of the news media's coverage of race was conducted by the Kerner Commission more than 3 decades ago. In response to riots during the summer of 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, which became known as the Kerner Commission, to find out what happened, why the riots happened, and what could be done to prevent riots from happening again. As part of its analysis of the causes of the riots, the Kerner Commission looked at the media's role in the civic unrest and concluded that the press had failed to adequately report on the underlying problems that led to the riots. The Kerner Commission also criticized the news media for reporting from a White-only perspective and failing to report the history, culture, and activities of Blacks in American society (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968). Noting that fewer than 5% of U.S. journalists were Black and far fewer were in decision-making positions, the Kerner Commission said the journalism profession had been "shockingly backward" in seeking out, hiring, training, and promoting Blacks (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 384).

Since 1968, there has been little significant change in the news media coverage of people of color. Scholars who study race and television news have found that people of color are often neglected, misrepresented, or stereotyped (Campbell, 1995; Dates & Barlow, 1990; Deepe Keever, Martindale, & Weston, 1997; Entman, 1992, 1994; Entman & Rojecki, 2000; Gandy, 1998; Gilliam & Iyenjar, 2000; Poindexter & Stroman, 1981; Roberts, 1975; Wilson & Gutierrez, 1995; Ziegler & White, 1990). Although researchers have paid comparatively less attention to the topic of race and television news since the 1968 Kerner Commission criticisms, there have been some noteworthy studies.

Roberts (1975) coded network news programs for speaking and non-speaking appearances of Blacks to determine the degree of their visibility. Roberts found Blacks were not very visible and had little voice, especially when it came to world or national affairs. …

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