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News on Trial

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Black Americans are critical of news coverage of Black people and say educating journalists would make coverage fairer.

Black Americans see a range of problems with how Black people are covered in the news, and few are hopeful that will change in the foreseeable future, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of nearly 5,000 Black adults.

On several questions, Black Americans are far more likely to view news coverage of Black people in a negative rather than positive light:

  • Almost two-thirds of Black adults (63%) say news about Black people is often more negative than news about other racial and ethnic groups; 28% say it is about equal and 7% say it is often more positive.

  • 57% say the news only covers certain segments of Black communities, compared with just 9% who say it covers a wide variety of Black people.

  • Half say coverage is often missing important information, while only 9% say it often reports the full story.

  • 43% say the coverage largely stereotypes Black people, far higher than the 11% who say it largely does not stereotype. An additional 43% say both of these things happen about equally.

These critical views of coverage of Black people are widely shared within the Black population, regardless of age, gender and even political party affiliation.

The survey asked Black Americans if they ever come across news that is racist or racially insensitive about Black people in some way. About four-in-ten (39%) say they see this kind of racially problematic news extremely or fairly often, and an additional 41% say they sometimes see such news.

Those who report coming across racially problematic news coverage of Black people at least sometimes see a few different reasons for this. About half (51%) say outlets pushing agendas is a major factor, and 45% say the same about journalists not being informed. Others say racist views among people at the news outlet (42%), the speed of the news cycle (37%) and a lack of Black staff at the news outlet (36%) are major reasons for racist or racially insensitive coverage.

Just 14% of Black Americans are highly confident that Black people will be covered fairly in their lifetimes, saying that is extremely or very likely to happen. Far more (38%) think that is not too likely or not at all likely to happen, while an additional 40% say it is somewhat likely. (More details on Black Americans’ views of how Black people are covered in the news are in Chapter 1.)

How can news coverage of Black people improve?

Black Americans identify a few steps that could improve what they see as flawed coverage. And one factor consistently stands out – making sure that journalists are informed about the issues affecting Black people.

The survey asked about the importance of several practices for journalists when covering Black people, finding that:

  • 76% of Black Americans cite coverage of all sides of an issue as extremely or very important.

  • A similar percentage, 73%, say it is extremely or very important for journalists to understand the history of the issues in the story.

  • A majority (59%) say journalists personally engaging with the people they cover is of high importance.

  • Roughly half (48%) see having journalists advocate for Black people as extremely or very important.

Among those who report at least sometimes seeing racist or racially insensitive coverage about Black people, nearly two-thirds (64%) identify educating all journalists about issues impacting Black Americans as an extremely or very effective way of making coverage fairer.

Substantial shares also say including more Black people as sources (54%) and hiring more Black people as newsroom leaders (53%) and as journalists (44%) at news outlets would be highly effective. Details on these findings are in Chapter 2.

These are some of the key findings of the Center’s nationally representative survey of 4,742 U.S. Black adults conducted from Feb. 22 to March 5, 2023. We undertook this study to take a closer look at the relationship between Black Americans and news in the United States.

In 1967, the Kerner Commission – undertaken by President Lyndon Johnson’s administration to investigate the causes behind urban riots – took a harsh view on the news media’s stance toward Black Americans. The commission’s report cited sensationalist and divisive coverage as well as inaccurate and unfair representations of Black communities, concluding that “the journalistic profession has been shockingly backward in seeking out, hiring and promoting” Black people, and “the press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and white perspective.”

More than half a century later, there is continued discussion of many of the themes raised in the report. This new study asks Black Americans themselves about their experience with news today, including views around portrayals of Black people in news stories, representation in newsrooms, and where they go and whom they trust for information.

The focus on the Black population allowed the Center to tailor the study to the experiences of Black Americans rather than comparing them to other groups. It also provided a greater opportunity to look deeply at differences and similarities among groups within the Black population.

To get a deeper understanding of Black Americans’ experiences with and views about the news, we also held a series of nine online focus groups of U.S. Black adults, enabling participants to elaborate on their views. Quotes from these participants are included throughout this report. The methodology includes more details about the survey and focus groups.

Views about newsroom representation

Many Black Americans see instances when it is important for the news they get to come from Black journalists – particularly in getting news related to race and racial inequality. And as noted earlier, many see hiring more Black journalists and newsroom leaders as ways to improve coverage of Black people. But few think their news in general needs to come from Black journalists, nor do they automatically trust a story because it comes from a Black journalist.

Nearly half of Black Americans think that Black journalists do a better job than other journalists at covering issues related to race and racial inequality (45%) and also at understanding them (44%). Roughly similar percentages say Black journalists do about as well as other journalists in these areas, while much smaller shares say Black journalists do a worse job (5% each).

For many Black Americans, then, it is crucial that the news they get about issues related to race and racial inequality comes from Black journalists. Four-in-ten Black Americans say this is extremely or very important, and an additional 28% say it is somewhat important.

At the same time, just 14% of Black Americans say it is highly important that any news they get, regardless of topic, comes from Black journalists. And a similarly small share (17%) say Black journalists are better than other journalists at reporting the news accurately.

Black Americans take a number of factors into account when assessing the credibility of a news story – but the journalist’s race is not a dominant one. Relatively few Black adults (15%) say that a journalist being Black is an extremely or very important factor in deciding whether a story is trustworthy. That lags well behind other factors, including the sources cited (53% say this is extremely or very important in determining a story’s credibility), whether it is reported by multiple outlets (50%), and the news outlet itself (46%).

Similarities and differences within the Black population

Concerns about how Black people are covered in the news are widespread across the Black population. For example, Black adults across age groups largely see coverage in a far more negative than positive light, and Black men and women view issues around Black news coverage in very similar ways. There are some differences by education, with Black adults who have more formal education expressing more negative opinions about news coverage of Black people.

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