HOWARD J. EHRLICH
There were four of us at the Baltimore-based National Institute Against Prejudice and Violence who routinely handled press inquiries. Over the past seven years, before the Institute closed, we provided interviews and information to most of the major print and electronic news media in the United States. My media contact log indicates that I have spoken to over 200 reporters. My guess is that only a few had any serious knowledge of race relations--or any form of intergroup relations. My associates share my estimate.
We had another source of information not easily accessible to most people. For five years, the Institute's press clipping service sent us about 100-150 clips a week which they drew from close to 500 newspapers and news magazines. They all told stories about conflict and ethnoviolence. The clips make transparent the operation of the American newspaper.
Newspapers are the major source of news about racial, religious, and ethnic group relations in the cities. The daily newspaper reaches an estimated 113 million readers. Based on a nationwide poll of over 2,000 people, Michael J. Robinson and Andrew Kohut concluded, in their "Public Opinion Quarterly" article, that the majority of Americans believe "most of what it hears, sees, or reads in the nation's press." Television is a less useful way of conveying news. There have been 15 studies of news learning that show that newspaper readers are more informed than TV viewers. Both of these facts are alarming.
There are many people in the news media who believe that all they must do is master the form. You don't need to have any special knowledge about your subject, you just need to know how to "research" the story and then how to present it. When I suggested in an op-ed piece that there really is a body of social science knowledge about prejudice and intergroup conflict that reporters should learn, the op-ed page editor wrote me a personal note in which he called my suggestion "intellectually arrogant."
For most newspaper writers, research means talking to as many "experts" and other people as their deadline permits. Typically, the story form becomes an interrelated set of paragraphs which are basically quotes. When the quotes are drawn