Magazine article Editor & Publisher
AFRICAN AMERICANS IN THE NEWS MEDIA
'Of all our institutions, the news media still have the greatest potential to guide us over the chasm ... that divides us.'
In 1993, as I joined the journalism faculty at New York University, I began to reflect on a daily newspaper career that had taken me to four news organizations and had allowed me to bear witness to a number of momentous events as a reporter assigned to New York City, the New York State Legislature, Capitol Hill, and South Africa. I had covered the inaugurations of two presidents, a mayor, and a governor, and I had witnessed the dismantling of apartheid in South
Africa. In 1992, I was privileged to share a Pulitzer Prize for spot news with colleagues at New York Newsday. But, despite my success, I had often felt constricted by the narrow scope of the news media that largely marginalized African Americans.
Their history, attitudes, and daily trials and tribulations were often eclipsed by the news media's appetite for African-American crime, entertainment, and dysfunction.
I often found myself swimming against a tide that rewarded those eager to write stories that conformed to a set and stereotypical view of African-American life. As much as my daily journalism career had helped me realize a childhood dream, I had, in time, tired of a predictable script where African Americans were concerned. I had won some newsroom battles over coverage, but the resistance to ideas that fell outside the white cultural mainstream had thwarted many of my efforts to portray the full range of black life.
In my new position as a journalism professor, I began to examine the history of the American media and how African Americans figured in that history. It was immediately apparent that the contributions African Americans had made to the American media were largely ignored or relegated to footnotes. Left in the archives were the contributions to leading publications by early 20th-century journalists such as Lester Walton, John Bruce, Earl Brown, and George Schuyler.
Spurred by a desire to fill in the gaps of media history and to examine the extent to which African Americans have made a difference in the mass media, I began a study of blacks in the mainstream media that resulted in "Within the Veil: Black Journalists, White Media" (New York University Press). …