Minneapolis-St. Paul News Coverage of Minority Communities
Findings and Recommendations
In this report, the Minnesota Advisory Committee set out to accomplish three tasks: update its 1993 report on the same subject; determine how well the Twin Cities news media are educating their viewers, listeners, and readers about the area’s communities of color; and foster continued discussion and ideas on how the local news media can better cover the diverse communities of the Twin Cities. In this chapter, the Committee presents its findings and recommendations.
1. General Findings and Recommendations
1.1 Twin Cities residents rely to a large extent on the local news media for their understanding of diverse communities. Residents often learn about other races, cultures, and religions through their exposure to local news media. Therefore, the news media play a vital educative role and must pursue this role in a nonstereotypical manner.
1.2 Many people testified and some evidence was presented to conclude that explicit racial stereotyping is not as problematic as it was in 1992. However, the coverage of communities of color continues to be compromised because the communities’ perspectives are oftentimes not given equal consideration. In addition, less explicit stereotyping still occurs. Some evidence implies that although quality of coverage has improved, quantity of coverage is lacking.
1.3 Given that the 2000 census found a 127 percent increase in the number of people of color in the state compared with 1990, local news media risk making themselves irrelevant to a large segment of society if they do not take diversity seriously. Minnesota is a state with a large white majority, but it is swiftly becoming more and more diverse. News media that can reflect this diversity will likely be the most successful. Alienating minority communities may prove to be fiscally irresponsible in addition to being socially irresponsible.
1.4 Diversification of newsrooms and management is vital to improving coverage of communities of color. The burden of diversifying news media staffs, especially management and editorial staffs, falls on the news media outlets themselves. The Minnesota Advisory Committee notes that the local news media have made concerted efforts to recruit people of color, and it recognizes the difficulties inherent in recruiting diverse people to the Twin Cities. Although quantitative progress was presented regarding the diversification of newsrooms, the local news media have not adequately diversified their management staffs.
1.5 Retention of people of color in the news industry is a current problem that was not cited at the 1992 meeting. From testimony presented in 2002, many people of color do not remain in their positions because of a lack of opportunity for advancement and inability to do new and interesting stories.
1.6 Deregulation of the telecommunications industry affects all news outlets. Although the deregulation measures target television and radio, cross-ownership rules apply to local newspapers as well. Looking at the effects of radio deregulation in 1996, the Minnesota Advisory Committee sees a genuine concern that deregulation measures may decrease competition and encourage large, international media corporations to control local news. The effect of deregulation on communities of color, however, cannot be determined at this time.
1.1 News media management staffs must be diversified. People of color need to have input regarding what is news in the Twin Cities. In addition to improving the coverage of communities of color, diversifying management may also ease the difficulties local news media experience recruiting and retaining people of color.
1.2 Local news media should offer paid internship programs, as some already do, to provide opportunity to people who may not be able to work for free because of economic status. Such an effort may increase the diversity of students who enter the journalism field.
1.3 Local news media should begin to implement civic journalism ideas to alter the way news is done. There are cost-effective ways to bring the community into the newsroom. A simple first step would be for news media outlets to be sure reporters are educated about the diverse communities and cultures of the Twin Cities. Journalists who cover communities could work, at least some of the time, in the communities in order to establish a rapport. Incorporating common technology such as cell phones and laptop computers would make this economically feasible. Furthermore, the large mainstream press could host luncheons and other gatherings where community leaders are invited to meet and greet.
1.4 Local news media need to “diversify their rolodex.” When possible, they should present people of color as experts on issues beyond race such as medicine, politics, and legal issues. Likewise, news media should not interview the same representatives from a given community. There is more than one leader and perspective in every community.
1.5 Communities of color need to be more proactive in promoting fair and accurate local news coverage through letter writing campaigns to approve or disapprove of a given article or segment and initiate meetings with editorial boards. Furthermore, communities should work with the Minnesota News Council to review news segments that they feel are inaccurate or stereotypical.
1.6 Local news media and local journalism scholars should analyze the news that is presented to Twin Cities residents. More studies need to be conducted to decipher both the quality and quantity of news coverage of communities of color.
1.7 The Federal Communications Commission and/or the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights should thoroughly study the effects of deregulation measures on local communities and specifically communities of color. These studies should take place before any further deregulation measures are enacted.
2. Twin Cities Television and Radio News
2.1 News departments at commercial television and radio stations are at a distinct disadvantage in covering communities of color accurately and comprehensively compared with newspapers, public television, and public radio. The shorter segments of commercial television and radio news broadcasts do not allow for thorough reporting of complex issues. Thus, traditional stereotypes held by the public may persist.
2.2 Despite efforts by the Committee and regional staff to obtain information from local television news stations about the topics of this study, KSTP was the only station to cooperate fully. A representative from WCCO participated in the fact-finding meeting. The inability of other news stations to send a representative to the fact-finding meeting may be interpreted as disregard for the concerns of the local communities of color.
2.3 The “window dressing” mentality of television news is still prevalent. Based on testimony at the fact-finding meeting, there are currently no people of color serving in high-level management positions at Twin Cities television news stations.
2.4 The Federal Communications Commission no longer publishes employment reports for the broadcast and cable industries, making it difficult to assess the diversification of the television news industry.
2.5 Compared with mainstream television and radio, Twin Cities Public Television and Minnesota Public Radio both relatively succeed in providing diverse programs, although the local public television no longer has a local news program. However, improvements still can be made in their coverage of communities of color.
2.1 Television news directors must pay closer attention to the interests and concerns of communities of color. When given the opportunity to interact and dialogue with community leaders and representatives, television station managers and news directors should participate. Through interaction and dialogue, television news media and communities of color can begin to understand each others’ concerns.
2.2 The number of people of color employed at local television news stations in decision-making positions has not grown since the early 1990s. Television news stations must take responsibility for this fact and diversify their management staff.
2.3 The Federal Communications Commission should once again publish employment information for the broadcast and cable industry, particularly now that the number of owners is decreasing.
2.4 Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) should consider bringing back its nightly local news program, “News Night Minnesota,” as it appeared to cover communities of color well. The Minnesota Advisory Committee suggests that if TPT would return the show to the air, it consider marketing it through advertisements in the various community and alternative press.
3. Twin Cities Newspapers
3.1 Twin Cities newspapers have increased the number of people of color who work in their newsrooms. Recruitment efforts have yielded positive results. Yet, despite increases in overall employment of people of color, little improvement has occurred in regard to people of color in high-level management positions at area newspapers.
3.2 Retaining people of color in positions is as serious a challenge for Twin Cities press as recruitment is. Although Twin Cities newspapers have launched successful efforts to recruit people of color, they have not begun similar efforts to retain them.
3.3 Although some preliminary evidence shows that coverage of communities of color has improved in quality if not quantity, some members of various communities of color still have a negative impression of how mainstream newspapers cover them.
3.1 In addition to diversifying management, one of the most serious problems confronting newspapers regards retention of journalists of color. The Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press should consider seriously the two main reasons journalists of color do not remain in the journalism field, as cited by the American Society of Newspaper Editors: lack of opportunity for advancement and the inability to do new and interesting work. The Committee recommends both papers develop meaningful solutions to these problems, and it reiterates the previous recommendation to all news media that diversifying management may be an appropriate first step.
3.2 Newspaper editorial boards should consider the needs and concerns of communities of color and express those concerns in their editorials. Preferably, editorial boards would include members of communities of color and those who have contact with local communities of color.
4. Community and Alternative News Media
4.1 Overall, testimony from the fact-finding meeting implies that community and alternative news media have grown substantially in the past decade. Many newspapers have expanded circulations, and the number of minority-owned radio stations has increased. Their growth can be seen as both a reflection of the expanding communities of color in the Twin Cities as well as the disillusionment many in these communities feel about the mainstream news media. No evidence was presented to conclude that minority-owned television stations have increased in number in the Twin Cities.
4.2 Community and alternative press have formed a consortium to work for their common interests. In order to secure corporate advertisements, these groups must continue to work cooperatively.
4.3 There is little effort by the mainstream and community press to work together. The consortium of alternative news media expressed interest in working with mainstream media. However, representatives from the larger media companies did not express a desire to do so, although they did not deny any interest.
4.1 As it did in 1993, the Minnesota Advisory Committee recommends that government should recognize that the mainstream news media are directed primarily toward consumption by the white community because such programming yields the greatest viewership numbers and advertising dollars. Therefore, government should encourage the establishment and strengthening of minority-owned news media outlets. Government agencies could support community and alternative press through advertisements in particular.
4.2 Mainstream press and community press should begin dialogue on how they can work together to improve the overall coverage of communities in the Twin Cities.
4.3 Community and alternative newspapers should consider attracting advertisements from Twin Cities Public Television and Minnesota Public Radio, as their diverse programming may be of particular interest to readers of those papers.