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The Media Needs to Be Taught How to Report on Race, Says Ferguson Report

Among the nearly 200 recommendations made in the Ferguson Commission's report is one calling for training and accountability standards in the media.

by Olivia Becker
Sep 15 2015, 10:05pm

Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

The Ferguson Commission, the independent 16-member committee Missouri Governor Jay Nixon appointed following the police shooting of Michael Brown last summer, called out a wide range of public and private institutions in its report examining racial inequality in the St. Louis area. And that included the media.  

The report, which was released on Monday, calls for the implementation of statewide "anti-bias training" focusing on "impoverished communities, people of color, and boys and men of color."

Members of the commission recommended the media training — it's just one of almost 200 recommendations in the report — because they saw a racial bias in the mainstream coverage of Ferguson that was at odds with what was happening on the ground, said Reverend Starsky Wilson, one of the co-chairs of the commission.

"We continually saw rolling coverage of screaming, young African-American men and women yelling, throwing rocks at police after being tear-gassed," Wilson said. But there was not the same amount of attention given to white anarchists who were participating in the violence, or the peaceful organizing that was also happening, he added. This caused "significant concern" among the commission.

The report, however, did not set forth a specific training program or curriculum for reporters. Wilson said the recommendation was intended to draw attention to an issue that had not been sufficiently addressed in the aftermath of Brown's shooting.

"My hope is that the Ferguson report causes all media managers, not just those in St. Louis, to take a moment to look around their own newsrooms and ask themselves whether their newsroom staff and content reflects the community they serve," said Sarah Glover, president of the National Association for Black Journalists. "The fair coverage of black males in particular should be a focus of a coverage audit."

The commission cited a separate report by the Center for Racial Justice Innovation titled "#MediaonFerguson," which examined nearly 1,000 mainstream articles and cable TV programs about Brown's shooting and its aftermath. Fewer than 4 percent of those stories addressed systemic racism.

Coverage that focuses on what led to the racial disparities in Ferguson "is very important in terms of framing the conversation and helping people have meaningful conversations about race," said Jyarland Daniels, a spokeswoman for Race Forward, which compiled the #MediaonFerguson report at the center.

It is not enough for reporters to simply provide numbers that reflect racial disparity, Daniels said. The media must also point out the systems in place that created that disparity.

"As a reporter you need to make choices and cover the context," said Teri Hayt, executive director of the American Society of Newsroom Editors. "Its not just about rolling the camera and letting it all unfold."

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928

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