New Pew study shows Black news consumers favor local over national media coverage
Black news consumers think local reporters do a better job of covering Black communities than the national media, according to a recent study from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
Black leaders in South Florida's media landscape say that's because Black news organizations — and also Black reporters at mainstream outlets — understand the local issues better and are less likely to engage in tired tropes and racist stereotypes than national journalists.
Bobby Henry, publisher of Westside Gazette, a family-owned Black weekly newspaper based in Broward County, said Black readers favor local coverage “mainly due to the fact that there are Black newspapers here."
M•I•A Media Group CEO and founder Dexter Bridgeman said, "local Black reporters, … they get a chance to really know us."
Bridgeman’s three news magazines — Legacy Miami, Legacy South Florida, and MIA Magazine — have been distributed as inserts in the Miami Herald and Sun-Sentinel newspapers for more than a decade, with readership exceeding 220,000 for Legacy Miami and 350,000 for Legacy South Florida.
The group also produces local television programs and has an email base of more than 100,000 subscribers.
“It takes someone with exceptional foresight and understanding of our community,” Bridgeman said, “if you're reporting on a national issue, to be able to relate the story to our community and be able to tell the story in a way that doesn't make us look like where we got two heads.”
Age and party affect how Black consumers view news
An earlier Pew study found that Black Americans are more likely than people of other races or ethnicities to closely follow local news.
The new research goes deeper, probing Black Americans' news consumption preferences. It was based on a survey of more than 4,700 Black adults of different ages and party affiliations across the country.
Black people who consume local news are more likely to see local coverage of Black communities as fair than unfair, the research shows. But there's a slight generational divide, according to Michael Lipka, an associate director focusing on news and information research at Pew.
“Older Black Americans are more likely than younger Black Americans … to express the more positive view, … that local journalists are in touch with their community and that coverage is mostly fair," Lipka told WLRN.
More broadly though, Black adults have generally negative feelings toward news coverage of Black people. And there's not much hope that it will get better.
Less than 20% of younger respondents were optimistic that news coverage of Black communities would improve. "So that is one finding that I think is particularly telling,” Lipka said.
The study also showed how political affiliation tends to shape Black respondents' views of local news coverage.
“Black Democrats are more likely than Black Republicans to express positive views about local news coverage and local journalists,” Lipka said. “And that just sort of fits in with a broader pattern that we see across the parties, regardless of race, in which Republicans tend to be more skeptical toward news media journalists in general than Democrats do.”
Black outlets challenge racist narratives in news
Since the founding of the country, there has been a need for news outlets offering fair and nuanced coverage of Black people and issues, as well as an alternative to mainstream white-owned outlets, many of which have a long history of racism.
Black outlets played an important role in the abolition of slavery as well as the Civil Rights movement. The weekly Freedom's Journal, for example, was the first Black-owned and operated newspaper, founded in 1827 in New York City.
Concerns over the lack of fair media coverage of Black people reached a fever pitch five decades ago. In the late 1960s, through an executive order, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed what's known as the Kerner Commission to investigate urban riots and racial division across the country.
The report, citing “instances of sensationalism, inaccuracy and distortion” among newspapers, radio and television, concluded that media outlets had failed to adequately represent underlying issues affecting Black communities for its majority white audiences and had lacked newsroom diversity. “Important segments of the media failed to report adequately on the causes and consequences of civil disorders and on the underlying problems of race relations,” the report said.
Many Black news consumers still think national coverage of Black people is too often inadequate, which has resulted in communities launching their own local publications.
M•I•A Media Group's publications mainly cover positive stories about Black people in South Florida, serving an audience of professionals across industries to “educate and inform the community on the heroes and sheroes and talk about the success and the achievement of our community," according to Dexter Bridgeman, publisher.
Bridgeman said his outlets' editorial theme is necessary to combat a history of negative media portrayals of Black Americans, especially in national media, producing solution-based stories surrounding community health and education to championing top professionals in arts and culture, from the American Black Film Festival and Jazz in the Gardens.
Nicky Gelin, Editor-in-Chief of M•I•A Magazine, said local news is "more trusted."
National news "misses the community closeness" and that "the local reach is always better whenever the community sees they're being recognized for their accomplishments on a popular public platform."
Bridgeman said maintaining community trust also requires profiling people who are making a difference in people's lives.
“What we're trying to do is let people know that our community has great individuals who are accomplishing wonderful things and great things, whether it's in medicine, whether it's in education, whether it's in banking, finance," he said.
Levi Henry, founded the Westside Gazette, one of the oldest African-American newspapers in South Florida, 52 years ago, and at the time used the motto: “A Positive Paper for Positive People."
His son and the paper's current publisher, Bobby Henry, said while it was founded on "positive news" about Black people, the paper eventually pivoted to cover general news, such as social justice issues, current affairs, crime, and education.
“During the time that the publication was founded, as well as a lot of other Black publications, the news we read and daily papers were just a bunch of negative stuff,” Bobby Henry said. “The only time that you saw or read a story about a Black person was usually in a robbery or shooting — something that wasn't positive.”
Henry said his readership is roughly 150,000, mostly Black women and seniors throughout the tri-county area.
“Black newspapers are ingrained in the community, and therefore, our concerns are of the community,” Henry said. “Our mainstay is in the churches and in-the-community stories. Finding our niche, writing our narrative and telling the stories of who we are, allows us to continue to be in the news business.”
Even local outlets can do better
Peter Webley runs Caribbean Today, a free monthly paper that has covered current affairs, immigration, food and sports for the Black Caribbean diaspora for more than three decades.
Webley was born in Jamaica and raised in Miami. He said local news coverage isn’t absolved from its own issues. He said he founded his outlet because he saw cultural gaps in how mainstream local publications covered the Jamaican community, specifically what he saw, at the time, as an overemphasis on stories surrounding Jamaican posses or gangs.
He demanded more balance.
“Who better to shine a light on what is needed and where it's needed and how it's needed than you [the Caribbean diaspora]?" he asked.
The newspaper circulates from Homestead to West Palm Beach, at doctors offices, grocery stores, restaurants and barber shops.
Webley said Black readers feel closely connected to local news coverage because it’s a “historical reference.”
“Once the ink dries, they're part of history. It cannot be undone. And a lot of people recognized that,” Webley added.
“They now have a voice. They now have a representation. And that ain't woke. It's real,” he said.
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