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Journalists at W.K. Kellogg Foundation convening acknowledge mistakes in coverage of race-related events and issues

Jamaal Young

NEW ORLEANS – A panel of esteemed journalists today acknowledged the shortcomings of media coverage as it relates to vulnerable youths and people of color, as well as the images frequently projected by the nation’s entertainment industry.
At the America Healing grantee conference hosted by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), Gregory L. Moore, editor of the Denver Post and moderator for the panel, said the media has made mistakes in covering the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and other issues involving race. Moore asked the panel whether the mistakes resulted from the pressures of a hyper-competitive, 24-hour news cycle.

In responding, Roberto Lovato, co-founder of Presente.org, didn’t address whether errors, such as some initial reporting that George Zimmerman was white, were deliberate. But he maintained that by reinforcing stereotypes, the media contributes to setting a racially-charged environment that can result in violence.

The media, he said, “is just ill-equipped” to report on many complicated race-related factors in our society. “It’s embarrassing to watch the coverage.”

The media and entertainment industry have frequently been criticized by the social justice community for projecting stereotypes that can create racial tension.  Dr. Gail Christopher, the vice president – program strategy for WKKF, has called on the media to be more responsible in its reporting, especially as it pertains to vulnerable children and people of color. “We want the media to play a major role in helping to heal racial wounds, rather than contributing to the divisiveness,” she said. “There is an important role for the media to play.” 

At the panel discussion, Adam Stoltman, a noted photographer, editor and entrepreneur, said he shared in the disappointment toward the media. “It makes me think a little bit about how conflict is such an underlying part of the way we create media,” he said. “We do a less good job as storytellers, telling stories about actual cooperation, about things that actually do work. “  

Moreover, Stoltman said that the barrage of media from “hate” radio to music, films, video games and traditional media fill the airwaves so massively that it is difficult for it to all be cognizant. “The pace of media crowds out our humanity,” he said.  

Evelyn Hsu, senior director of programs and operations at the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, said the media could improve its coverage by ensuring that reporters, editors and producers in their newsrooms represent the community that they cover. She called on the media to provide platforms for citizens “to tell their stories” and do their own reporting on their communities; she urged citizens to take an accounting of how often their local newspapers quote people of color or report stories related to their communities.

“Am I reflected” in the story is what Hsu said people need to ask. “If you aren’t, bring that message back to the people who produce the news.”

But Hsu said it frustrating not to see people of color reflected in everyday life. “Where is the black dentist in a story about health?” She noted that a disproportionate number of Latinos utilized cell phones, but in “a story about blackouts and rising rates, where are the Latinos in these stories? They are not there.”

Another panelist, Shirley Sneve, executive director of Native American Public Telecommunications, said it is also important for people of color to utilize the internet and blogs to tell their own stories. She said that Native Americans have high rates of suicide, obesity, violence against women and a high school graduation rate of 60 percent.  She said their stories are “terrible news,” but must be told.   

“We believe that Native Americans can tell Native American stories the best and so we spend a lot of time training Native Americans and allowing them to speak and be heard on the internet,” she said. 
New Orleans was chosen as the site of this second annual America Healing grantee conference because New Orleans is a priority place for the foundation’s investments and several grantees from the city are involved in the conference.

The meeting is part of the WKKF’s America Healing effort that provides grants for organizations to promote racial healing and racial equity to improve the lives of vulnerable children in communities.

For more information about America Healing, visit www.AmericaHealing.org.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create the conditions where vulnerable children can realize their full potential in school, work and life.

The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Mich., and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti. 

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