(Editor’s Note: This Editorial was published in the First Issue of CopyLine Magazine, November 1990)
By Juanita Bratcher
Author, Editor & Publisher of CopyLine Magazine
It’s hard to remember many of the things that occurred during the early stages of my life. But I have a vivid memory of what it was like as a kid growing up in Georgia when I would read the newspapers or magazines or turn on the television or radio. It was a feeling of discontent, a feeling of anger, and sometimes a feeling of outrage, to see just how Blacks were projected in the media.
And never in my wildest imagination, at that time, did I entertain the thought that one day I would be part of a â€œMediumâ€ that I so detested. The reason being, perhaps, was my one-woman opinion that the media engaged in stereotypical, lopsided and imbalanced reporting of the Black experience in America.
I knew – as a kid growing up in Georgia â€“ as well as numerous others, that there were many Black role models in our community, and many â€œUnsung Heroesâ€. But the mainstream media, more often than not, focused on the criminal aspects â€“ robberies, burglaries and murders; letting the positives go begging, whether intentional or not.
During that time, very few Blacks were seen on the â€œhappy mediumâ€ television screen. Nat King Cole, a very talented Black entertainer, was a victim of racism when his nationally televised show was abruptly canceled.
Cole, the first Black to have his own nationally televised show, was dropped from the airwaves because of white protest. Sponsorships were canceled.
Today, however, the television industry has changed somewhat in that regard. There are many more Blacks in television roles, mainly sitcoms, but certainly more change is needed.
I can wholeheartedly relate to the first editorial that appeared in the first Black newspaper published on March 16, 1827, although it was long before my existence.
The editorial, published in Freedom’s Journal, stated: â€œWe wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.â€
In January 1859, the Anglo African magazine stated that in order for Black people in the United States to maintain their rank as men among men, they must speak for themselves, that no outside tongue, â€œhowever, gifted with eloquence, can tell their story; no outside eye, however, penetrating, can see their wants.â€
Reportedly, the founding of the first black published newspaper in the United States was spurred by the New York Enquirer. A few freedmen had become adept at oratory, poetry, and autobiographical writing that had produced moving accounts in book form of what it meant to live as a slave. Some freedmen had seen their articles or letters published by white editors in the mainstream press. But then a vicious attack was made on some Black leaders by the editor of the New York Enquirer, and thus, the founding of the first black newspaper.
It is obvious that the same scenario is taking place today. Imbalance news reporting of the black community is still a stark reality. Black leaders are being attacked on every front; some deservingly so, yet many undeserved.
Between 1827 and 1865, 40 struggling black newspapers sprung up, all dedicated to the anti-slavery abolitionist movement.
Over the years, voices from the black community have criticized the mainstream media’s unfair reporting of the black community, the small percentage of minorities working in the industry, and the fact that very few minorities are in key decision-making positions. However, very little change, if any, has been made.
While the media have put Corporate America under close scrutiny for discriminatory practices against minorities â€“ which is commending â€“ it has failed to place its own industry under the same kind of scrutiny.
The Kerner Commission report, released in March 1968, reported that â€œAlong the country as a whole, the press has too long basked in a white world, looking out of it, if at all, with white men eyes and a white perspective.â€
The report also stated that â€œIt is no longer good enough,â€ that â€œthe painful process of readjustment that is required of the American news media must begin now.â€
Perhaps the advice fell on deaf ears, because 22 years later, things have not changed very much.
In a published report some years ago, Carl Rowan, a renowned Black journalist, said that Black America is being â€œshaftedâ€ by the media, which does not employ blacks adequately, and which Blacks do not exploit to their best interest.
In that assessment of the media, Rowan alluded to a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Report which stated that minorities and women are misrepresented on the television screen and under-represented in jobs behind it.
In a 1984 study conducted by the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), it was revealed that the news industry was still largely segregated â€“ that more than 60 percent of the daily newspapers in America employ no minority journalists; less than six percent of journalists working on daily newspapers are minorities; 92 of the nation’s newspapers have no minorities in news-executive positions; and only 13 percent of broadcasting professionals are minorities.
Four years later (1988), ASNE conducted yet another study of the news industry. Statistics showed that very little, if any improvement was made in regards to minority hiring practices in the mainstream media.
The 1988 report found that 54 percent of daily newspaper newsrooms in the United States do not employ one minority professionals, that minorities make up only 7.54 percent of 56,200 newsroom professionals, and that the total industry employment of minorities is 16 percent.
The news industry is a powerful entity. It has a â€œProfoundâ€ impact on public opinion.
Former Vice President Spiro Agnew, a constant critic of the media, once stated: â€œNo medium has a more profound influence over public opinionâ€ than network television over which the three networks (ABC, NBC and CBS) have a â€œvirtual monopoly.â€
Critics of network television argue that news the public will see is determined by a handful of people, responsible only to their corporate employers who wield a free-hand in selecting, presenting and interpreting the great issues of the nation with broad powers of choice over which news pictures to select and which to reject.
Further, this small group of executive producers and correspondents can, by selecting the news, â€œcreate national issues overnight,â€ can make or break an individual, group, corporation or whatever; can elevate men from obscurity to national prominence, and can give national exposure to some, and ignore others, critics said.
The black community has long been victim of â€œselectiveâ€ news reporting. And, it appears that things won’t change anytime soon. That’s why it is important that black publications, black radio, and black television, for that matter, take their rightful places within the news industry to try and fill the â€œbalanced void.â€
As for CopyLine Magazine, we will work toward balancing the imbalanced.
Juanita Bratcher is an Award-Winning Journalist, the Publisher of www.copylinemagazine.com and the author of several books, songwriter and poet. She has been a Journalist for more than 37 years covering politics, education and a wide-range of other topics.