The importance of Black-owned & operated media outlets
By Niko Wagner | Contributing Writer
It seems like the news is inescapable these days. Whether you care to or not, the odds are that somehow, somewhere, you are consuming information relating to current events. I remember watching a news story on TV a few years back; it was about a Black man who had reached for his gun while being apprehended and was shot dead as a result. The video must have played at least 30 times, sometimes in slow motion, to emphasize the way he suddenly reached for his weapon. Unarmed Black folks are killed by police every day without so much as an honorable mention on this platform. Yet on the rare occasion that the police had a reason to shoot, they had a field day with the footage. Now I knew this specific news station had a long record of villanizing victims of police brutality, presumably to justify the behavior of the police. I remember thinking to myself, “how many Americans are using this outlet as their main source of information regarding police brutality? Regarding the state and condition of Black people as a whole?” This is only one example, of course, there are many other news outlets just like it. It’s no wonder so many people are oblivious as to the reality of the unrest in the Black community, or why some believe police brutality is only a coincidental surface wound instead of a scar, representative of a much deeper and uglier American malady. Media plays a vital part on both sides of the struggle towards equality – enlightening some as to the atrocities committed in the name of systemic racism, as well as leading others farther down the rabbit hole of white supremacy. The lack of diversity in newsrooms means that the very demographic that is responsible for Black oppression is the same demographic reporting on Black stories.
Of course, that’s not to say every white journalist/editor/expert is out to demonize Black folks. It is to say that even when the person has nothing but good intentions, the lens in which white reporters view Black reality is inevitably going to be skewed by cultural, experiential, and many times, economic differences. Only 7% of newsroom employees and 6% of all newsroom directors (the ones calling all the shots) are Black. This means that the vast majority of news published is coming from this eurocentric viewpoint. In reference to an article written by journalist Jelani Cobb, he mentions a news story where the reporter is covering a series of recent robberies in the Bronx, in which several targets refused to surrender what little they had to give. The journalist and an expert (criminologist) both shook a finger at the community members for taking such a risk, adding that “ a few dollars are not worth one’s life.” Cobb, who was from a neighboring area, mentions that for many people, those few dollars may have very well been all they had to get back and forth from work or buy groceries. It is apparent that through the lens of the journalist, these factors were not considered. There was no ill-intent on the side of the journalist; in fact, he was likely voicing concern rather berating the community in his eyes, but nonetheless, he inadvertently painted a skewed picture that was then published for millions of others see and believe. It’s not rocket science understanding the conflict of two affluent white men using their platform and expert title to publicly pass judgment on a community that is historically disadvantaged and predominantly Black & Latinx. Instead of moral support and compassion after what may have been a traumatizing experience, they were scolded, and their decision to hold out on the mugger was condemned to foolery. This is the case far too often when Black stories are told by non-black folks.
Now imagine the same story being reported by someone like Mr. Cobb, someone who had lived in the area, experienced similar hardships, and understood the thought process these individuals went through when that robber threatened their lives. Imagine just how different readers would feel instead after hearing about a hardworking underpaid young mother who would courageously stand up to a thief before potentially sacrificing a vital payday for her family? Yes, the point of view changes EVERYTHING. This is why it is so important that we have the option of getting our news from Black sources in addition to the usual mainstream outlets.
It’s not just these stories surrounding petty street crime; however, that deserve to be covered from a Black point of view, it is very much every piece of news. Politics, for example, is extensively and incessantly covered on almost every major news outlet. Because the politics of our country have never quite served the Black community the way it serves our caucasian counterparts, it’s vital that political news is translated and shared from the viewpoint of an African American for other African Americans. The media is failing if, after watching an analysis of a political exchange, I’m stuck at home wondering, “okay, but how is this going to affect my family and me?”. Furthermore, most Black people depend on and trust the news to accurately inform them about politicians, thus keeping those politicians in check. Pew Research reported, “about three-quarters of blacks (74%) say that news organizations’ criticism of political leaders… keeps these leaders from doing things that shouldn’t be done”. Due to the historical pattern of politicians enacting regulations and legislation that discriminately target Black people (think: war on drugs, voter suppression, stop & frisk, etc.) it is that much more important for Black news outlets to directly analyze and report on political affairs, thus holding politicians accountable for their actions as a whole, but also more specifically how their actions will be affecting Black people.
Most Black-owned news publications are small and community-based, their importance overlooked. However, Black-owned publications, such as the one you are reading from now, are truly indispensable. Black stories deserve to be told by Black people. In the age of information, there are so many things about our country that we only know about through reading or hearing about them in news media. If our views of the world are to come full-circle, it’s vital that more Black professionals be included in the newsroom. The issue is not necessarily the news, but how that news is being translated for its audience. As such, Black interpretations, analyses, and experiences must be reflected in the news that we as a country are consuming.
Pew Research Statistics link-