Coming into View: Race as a Campaign Issue Is Bringing Exposure to Minority Pundits

By Roach, Ronald | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, July 24, 2008 | Go to article overview

Coming into View: Race as a Campaign Issue Is Bringing Exposure to Minority Pundits


Roach, Ronald, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


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On numerous television and radio news shows over the past year, ranging from "Hardball" to "Hannity & Colmes" Dr. Michael K. Fauntroy has analyzed and interpreted the role of race in the 2008 presidential election season. An assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and a political scientist by training, Fauntroy is the author of Republicans and the Black Vote and he blogs regularly about American politics on his own Web site as well as on the The Huffington Post site.

"I see the public commentary as an extension of my work in the classroom. I see it as part of the requirements of being a professor. The blogging and column writing are all a part of that" says Fauntroy.

It's not surprising that as television news organizations have been cutting back on their news staffs, news shows have been relying more and more on news commentators and analysts like Fauntroy, to interpret as well as express opinions about news events. The trend towards expanding the role of analysts and commentators, or pundits as many call them, in television news has been most pronounced during the 2008 presidential election cycle, experts have noted.

"The fundamental trends transforming how people acquire news continued in the last year. More effort keeps shifting toward processing information and away from original reporting. Fewer people are being asked to do more, and the era of reporters operating in multimedia has finally arrived," according to "The State of the News Media" 2008 report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

While there's considerable debate brewing over whether the growing use of pundits in television news represents a positive or negative trend, the overall lack of diversity in broadcasting has some critics expressing deep concern about the near and long-term future of television news. While it's noted that some networks have made a valid effort to feature minority commentators during the current presidential election season, experts worry that news organizations will continue to follow the familiar path of having minimal diversity among those appearing in front of the camera as well as among producers and news executives behind the camera.

According to the Radio-Television News Directors Association/Ball State University annual survey, minority representation in the U.S. broadcast news work force fell from 22 percent in 2006 to 21.5 percent in 2007.

"We still have a very long ways to go. We're almost at the point where the U.S. population will be 35 percent people of color. By 2050, that percentage is supposed to reach 50 percent, and we might hit that mark sooner since we're already at 34 percent. And the (television news) industry just is not keeping pace," says Dr. Cristina L. Azocar, director of the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University.

Reactive Coverage

There's no doubt that race surfaced as one of the most discussed and analyzed topics during the Democratic presidential primary season. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's successful run to capture the Democratic nomination, culminating in him becoming the first African-American to do so, invited all manner of comment and speculation about race, most notably when the news media raised questions about Obama's relationship with the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

It's been argued that the news media, especially on the television news side, were poorly prepared to handle some of the more controversial and complex issues, such as the Wright controversy, that surfaced this past spring.

"I will say compared to previous instances where race has been an issue the (2008) coverage is better, but it's still not where I'd like to see it in terms of in-depth conversations about why things are the way they are," Fauntroy says.

"More often than not, it's 'let's get some talking heads and talk about race' as more of a reaction than anything else. …

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