J298 Race and Media

No issue in journalism is as pervasive and as controversial nowadays as race/cultural identity. But aspiring journalists are poorly prepared, poorly informed about it and petrified in talking about it, even among their peers and classmates. Race is more complex than just a question of when to include a suspect’s ethnicity in a crime story. It reaches into the heart of the newsroom (and classroom!) and plays a leading role in determining 1. who gets to be a journalist and 2. whose story gets told. News organizations have shrunk in size. The modest gains in diversity have eroded as the character of the industry has changed. The absence of blacks, Asians and Latinos from newsrooms for decades resulted in hideous misrepresentations and stereotypes. But as newsrooms have become more racially diverse, they also have become more racially tense. No amount of denial or avoidance will save the aspiring journalist from coming to terms with the American media’s racial past and its conflicted future. Whether it’s the condemnation of blackface or the Covington Catholic high school confrontation, the US news media have struggled to explain race to an increasingly pluralistic society. And for the journalist beginning her career, this is not just a question of fairness; it’s a question of survival. News media face a stark reality. The audience for their services is becoming younger, browner and less affluent. The legacy audience of Baby Boomers is in retreat, but they remain loyal to the surviving print publications and to traditional television and radio (including NPR!), and it’s dollars from Boomers that continue to pay the bills. The news industry has no choice but to redefine how it approaches its craft in order to keep pace with the changing composition of the audience. On Tuesday I attended an event at KQED in San Francisco that featured members of the staff of the podcast Code Switch, which is NPR’s effort to report on race. The moderator began by asking the 60 or so people in the room if they knew what the term “code switch” meant. Exactly three persons raised their hands. It was a vivid illustration of the gulf between a traditional audience (KQED donors) and a news organization attempting to reach out. Everybody in the room was 50+ years of age, most, in fact, were probably 70+. (Code switch is a linguistic term that means speakers change vocabulary and presentation style depending on the age, complexion, social class of the listener). The goal of the Race and Media course would be to provide students with fluency in the approaches to coverage of racial conflict, but moreover, the class would examine the racial composition of the American news industry as a factor in influencing coverage policies and practices. One of the central goals of the course would be to take the guilt and fear out of reporting about race, to get students to examine their own racial and cultural bias, to disagree but to continue to work together. The class would provide a supportive environment in which students and instructor would conduct an open and free exchange of views. The class would not, repeat NOT, arrive at a politically correct orthodoxy. The striving for correctness has simply masked some very real antagonisms, which do not disappear if we simply change nomenclature.



Time:  F 1:00 - 4:00

Location:  209 North Gate (Greenhouse)

Class Number:  16348

Section:  004

Units:  3

Length:  15 weeks

Course Material Fee:  None

Enroll Limit:  12

Restrictions & Prerequisites