Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Newspapers Fail to Take Leadership Role in Improving Race Relations

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Newspapers Fail to Take Leadership Role in Improving Race Relations

Article excerpt

Newspaper coverage of African-Americans has too often lurched

from neglect to sensationalism, says one of America's most

respected journalists.

Tom Wicker, in his new book, Tragic Failure: Racial Integration

in America, proposes a new political party for

African-Americans because he says Republicans and Democrats have

abandoned integration as a national goal.

At the same time, Wicker says that the news media must bear

some responsibility for the nation's failure to integrate the


Wicker has a rare perspective on race relations.

For his first 34 years, he grew up in the segregated South,

where he had his first newspaper jobs. News about

African-Americans was segregated in those days, too.

For his next 35 years, Wicker lived in the Northeast. He

retired in 1991 as a columnist for The New York Times.

He defines integration this way: "A situation in which blacks

and whites live together in amity, respecting each other's

rights and culture, in a society in which neither can or needs

to look down on faces permanently at the bottom of the well, a

society in which neither race is threatened by the other nor has

to claim preferential treatment in order to thrive


As he defines it, then, laws aren't the answer; changes in

human hearts are.

That led me to call him at his Rochester, Vt. home. I sought to

explore the role of the news media in fostering racial progress.

In his book, Wicker mentions several shortcomings of the

newspapers, many of them inter-related. Though the following

tendencies apply to all news coverage, they take on special

significance in coverage of race:

1. The tendency to simplify often distorts.

A typical example would be relying on a racial stereotype that

can't possibly be true for all members of a race.

2. Failure to cover minority communities on a routine basis.

This leaves black readers feeling separated and white readers

with an inadequate understanding of the black community. Too

often, coverage involves only crime or high-profile celebrities.

3. The press pays no attention to problems until there is a

dramatic spokesmen or a conflict.

"I always thought that newspapers ought to be more pro-active

in covering news," Wicker said.

4. Failure to hire and promote minorities.

Though strides have been made in newsrooms, they often come

painfully and slowly. …

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