Minneapolis-St. Paul News Coverage of Minority Communities

Chapter 1


Television is a dominant factor in American life. It transcends space, catapulting viewers across the Nation and around the world, introducing them to diverse peoples in various settings along the way. Television is preeminent as a communicator of ideas and as an entertainment form. Just as in a moment of triumph it showed the thrust into space fairly and objectively, it can achieve equivalent standards of presentation when grappling with cultural and racial diversity or when covering men and women. Because of the medium’s capacity for fixing an image in the public mind, its responsibility for avoiding stereotypic and demeaning depictions becomes central to its role. The encompassing nature of the medium necessitates that diversity among decisionmakers, newsmakers, and newscasters become an integral aspect of television.[1]

This statement was the preface to the 1979 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report on the coverage of women and minorities on television. It stressed the important role television played in the lives of Americans. In a relatively short period, television had become a primary means for people to entertain and educate themselves. The Commission then was concerned with the lack of diversity in television programming, including news programs.

For many U.S. citizens, local television, radio, and print news media provide the primary source for learning about their communities, as well as the world. Although programming may also be entertaining, news media provide the vital service of educating their viewers, listeners, and readers about the events, debates, and communities of their locality. Since local news media may be the primary sources of learning for many adults, they play a vital part in policy debates regarding civil rights, the public’s general knowledge about minority communities, and larger understandings of the world. As Michael Parenti writes, “Our notion of what a politician, a detective, a corporate executive, a farmer, an African, or a Mexican-American is like; what rural or inner-city life should be; our anticipations about romantic experience and sexual attractiveness, crime and foreign enemies, dictators and revolutionaries, bureaucrats and protestors, police and prostitutes, workers and Communists, are all heavily colored by our exposure to the [news] media.”[2]

If we view news media in this capacity of educator, the task of the Minnesota Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in this report is to investigate how well Twin Cities news media are educating their viewers, listeners, and readers about the area’s communities of color. In May 1993, this same body published a report titled Stereotyping of Minorities by the News Media in Minnesota. The report did not cite any intentional attempts by the news media in Minnesota to stereotype minorities. The Committee did find, however, that a number of factors contributed to negative portrayals of people of color, if they were portrayed at all. In February 2002, it voted unanimously to update this report.

The Committee reaffirms the high level of freedom the press in this country enjoys and in no manner wishes this report to question the level of this freedom. The report proposes to foster discussion and ideas about how the local news media can better cover and report on communities of color. Although some media may be more prepared or able to cover communities of color and debates may occur regarding how poorly or how well these communities are covered, no presenter at the fact-finding meeting suggested that the Twin Cities communities of color were represented as well as possible or that there was no room for improvement. It is in that spirit that the Minnesota Advisory Committee undertook this project, and it is in this spirit of working toward improvement that this report is released.


The state of Minnesota ranks 21st in population in the United States with 4,919,479 residents. As illustrated in Table 1, minorities compose approximately 10.6 percent of the state’s inhabitants with a total population of roughly 520,000 individuals. This population of minorities is more than twice the number it was in the 1990 census. Percentage-wise, Minnesota is becoming a much more diverse state than it was in the past. While the white population increased approximately 6.5 percent since 1990, the African American population increased about 80 percent, the Hispanic population increased a staggering 166 percent, the Asian American population increased 82 percent, and the Native American population increased 10 percent.

Population and Racial Demographic Data of Minnesota, 2000 and 1990














Black or African American





Hispanic or Latino





American Indian















Two or more races





Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2000 Census.

According to the 2000 census, the metropolitan area of Minneapolis-St. Paul contains over half of the state’s total population with 2,968,806 residents. The majority of these people live in the suburbs. However, sizable numbers of minorities are residents of the cities. As illustrated in Table 2, minorities make up more than a third of the population in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Population and Racial Demographic Data of the Twin Cities, 2000







Black or African American



Hispanic or Latino



American Indian









Two or more races



Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2000 Census.

A closer look at the statistics reveals interesting trends. Growth in Minnesota’s African American population can be partly attributed to an influx of new immigrants. The state is now home to the largest settlement of Somalis outside of Africa.[3] Most live within the Twin Cities, as do 90 percent of all African American Minnesotans. Two-thirds of the fastest-growing minority group, Latinos, are of Mexican origin. Minneapolis’ Latino population tripled in the 1990s. The state’s largest Asian ethnic group is the Hmong, a population that has increased almost 150 percent since 1990. St. Paul is the core of the Hmong community, with more than 24,000 Hmong residents. Unlike the state’s population as a whole, the Native American community is primarily growing through natural increase—births exceeding deaths—and not through in-migration to Minnesota from other places. About 40 percent of Minnesota’s Native American population live in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.[4]

Previous Studies on the News Media and Civil Rights

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has a history of studying the relationship between the news media and civil rights. The Commission first addressed the issue in 1977 with the release of its report Window Dressing on the Set: Women and Minorities in Television. This report came to three major conclusions. First, it documented that the stereotyping of people of color and the underrepresentation of them, as well as women, were serious problems in prime-time television dramas. Second, the Commission concluded that people of color and women rarely are covered by or report the news. Third, white males overwhelmingly worked at the decision-making positions in local newsrooms.

Because of the seriousness of the problem, the Commission decided to undertake a follow-up report on the same issue two years later. In 1979, it released Window Dressing on the Set: An Update. Unfortunately, the results were not much better and, in some cases, the problems had become worse. The Commission found that most newscasters and an even larger portion of all newsmakers, or people covered, were white and male. In addition, white males were overrepresented in official and manager positions at news stations. Among its recommendations, the Commission urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate the portrayal of minorities and women and the impact of these portrayals on viewers.

In addition to the Commission, other government agencies and private research groups have studied the civil rights implications of news media. Commonly called the Kerner Report, the 1968 Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders was the first official document of the federal government that recognized that racism was a problem in the United States. As it was specifically a report investigating the nation’s ethnic tensions, not the news media, its most famous conclusion was that the United States was becoming two societies, “one black, one white—separate and unequal.” However, it also criticized newspapers and television news for failing to report on African American life adequately or to employ more than a token number of minorities.

More recently, the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University released a report titled The American Media and Race Relations in an Interdependent World. In introducing the reason for the report, Robert Entman, the study’s author, wrote, “Perhaps for the first time since the landmark Kerner Report of 1968, the impacts of the media on race relations have become matters of public controversy.”[5] The report focused on news media coverage of the expanding nonwhite U.S. population, possible improvements news media could make given their prioritizing of profit, and whether race should be taken into account in journalism.

1993 Minnesota Advisory Committee Report

In 1993, the Minnesota Advisory Committee released its report, Stereotyping of Minorities by the News Media in Minnesota. The report recognized that “images portrayed by the media have a profound impact,” and by studying the images that promote stereotypes of minorities, it addressed “some of the root causes of racism.” The update of that report is one objective of this investigation.

Findings of the 1993 Report

The Minnesota Advisory Committee came to the following conclusions after the two-day fact-finding meeting held in 1992:

  1. The news media have tremendous influence on the attitudes of viewers and readers regarding race relations in this country. There is significant merit in allegations that the media presentation of news is biased when it comes to reporting on people or communities of color.

  2. The unfair portrayal of minorities in the electronic and print media has produced negative self-images of people of color, and it has bestowed upon white people an undeserved and destructive image of superiority.

  3. Business interests drive today’s news coverage and reporting.

  4. Despite some improvements, minorities are still generally portrayed as a negative segment of Minnesota society.

  5. The print media have diverse staffs but little diversity in management positions. The editors of the three major newspapers in the state admit that negative stereotyping of minorities continues. However, the editors said that the papers are responsive to community concerns.

  6. Television news has people of color on staff, but the minority staffing levels are less than the minority proportion of the general population. Negative stereotyping of minorities does occur, but several stations have tried to present positive stories about local minority communities.

Recommendations of the 1993 Report

The Minnesota Advisory Committee made the following recommendations in regard to its findings concerning Minnesota media and minorities:

  1. The press does and should enjoy a high level of unrestricted freedom to publish and broadcast.

  2. Stereotypes and bias are the result of ignorance. The Congress and the state legislature should ensure the importance of mandatory curriculum revision in all public elementary and high schools. This will provide a complete and accurate account of the historical development of America, including the many contributions of all races.

  3. All advisory committees of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights should consider examining this issue.

  4. The government should encourage the establishment of and strengthen minority-owned news media outlets.

  5. All levels of government should be extra vigilant in enforcing equal employment opportunity laws at news organizations and be alert to barriers to employment.

  6. The media should affirm its commitment to expanding the diversity of their staffs and expanding channels of communications with minority communities.

  7. Minorities outside the media should be active participants in the news reporting process.

  8. Majority media should aid the development of minority community media by working cooperatively.

Scope and Methodology

The scope of the study differs significantly from the earlier report. The Committee’s 1993 report addressed the Minnesota news media broadly. To provide a more detailed and targeted report in light of limited resources, the Committee chose to focus this study on the news media of the Twin Cities region, specifically. In no way does this narrowing of focus imply that the news media coverage of communities of color in other areas of the state is less important or beyond the need for review.

The Minnesota Advisory Committee held a two-day fact-finding meeting in Minneapolis on April 24 and 25, 2002. All concerned parties brought to the attention of regional staff were invited to participate. Among the highly qualified and distinguished presenters were Mayor R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis, Commissioner Janeen Rosas of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, local government officials, representatives from both major daily newspapers in the Twin Cities, presidents of community journalist associations, spokespeople for local community papers, independent media representatives, reporters, and other interested parties.[6] Similar to the earlier report, most data used and quotations cited in this report were obtained during the fact-finding meeting.[7] In addition, the results of other local and national studies are cited and compared with testimony from the fact-finding meeting. Quantitative data received at the fact-finding and formulated by regional staff are presented when pertinent.

This report is limited by the fact that one major body participated only sparingly: television news stations. Regional staff invited representatives of the five local television news stations to the fact-finding meeting and attempted repeatedly to obtain information from them. Two stations—KSTP and WCCO—sent representatives to the fact-finding meeting, but only KSTP provided all data requested. This lack of participation by most television news stations is particularly troubling because from testimony and data available, diversity among television news directors appears to be one of the major problem areas of Twin Cities news media. Not having the television stations themselves fully discuss this issue makes addressing these matters more difficult.

[1] U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Window Dressing on the Set: An Update, January 1979, p. v.

[2] Michael Parenti, Make-Believe Media: The Politics of Entertainment (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992), p. 4.

[3] Minnesota Public Radio, “Faces of Minnesota: Somalis,” Apr. 4, 2001, <http://news.mpr.org/features/200104/04_galballye_ somalis-m>.

[4] The McKnight Foundation, “2000 Census—Increasing Diversity: Overview,” Hot Issues, <http://www.mcknight.org/ hotissues/overview_censusd.asp>.

[5] Robert Entman, The American Media and Race Relations in an Interdependent World: A Report on the Shorenstein Center Conference on Race and the Press, June 29, 2001, p. 2.

[6] See Appendix B.

[7] Quotations from panelists throughout this report were taken from a transcript of the Minnesota Advisory Committee’s April 24–25, 2002, fact-finding meeting in Minneapolis, which is on file with the Midwestern Regional Office of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.