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NEW RESEARCH: News Media Systematically Repeat Debunked Myths About Black Families

This report is the first of its kind to examine the racial disparities in news and media opinion coverage of families.

Color Of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, and Family Story, an organization dedicated to elevating stories of diverse families, have released a new report examining the news media’s systemic and harmful misrepresentation of Black families during the last election cycle.

Conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Professor of Communication, Travis Dixon, the report examines relevant stories published or aired from January 2015 to December 2016, encompassing news coverage from national broadcast news outlets, cable news outlets, national mainstream newspapers, and conservative blog sites. Across all media categories, the report documented how news and opinion media outlets systemically and inaccurately portray Black families as more poor, criminal, and unstable than white families.

Top findings from the report include:

  • 59% of poor families were depicted in news media as Black, even though only 27% of families living below the poverty line are Black
  • 60% of media portrayals of families relying on welfare were Black, even though only 42% of families on welfare are Black
  • The media overwhelmingly depicts Black fathers as absent in the lives of their children, without any supporting evidence
  • The media over-represents the association between Black families and criminality, while significantly underrepresenting White families’ association with criminality
  • In addition to conservative media outlets, mainstream media outlets also systemically and inaccurately portray Black families. CNN’s portrayal of poor families is a 7 (Black families) to 0 (white families) ratio, Fox News is 8 (Black families) to 1 (white families). ABC’s description of families as a source of social stability is a 16 (white families) to 2 (Black families) ratio.

“News and opinion media continue to reinforce the unfounded and unfair idea that Black families are sources of personal, cultural and societal instability and that they are responsible for poverty, welfare and crime, rather than those who shape the economic and social environment families live in” said Nicole Rodgers, Founder and Executive Director of Family Story.

In the report, Color Of Change and Family Story also lay out recommendations for how media outlets can begin addressing their inaccurate and harmful portrayals of Black families:

  • Media outlets must stop propagating negative stereotypes that do not have basis in fact.
  • Media outlets must revise their standards and protocols for reporting on families and race-related issues.
  • Media outlets must educate editorial decision makers and reporters about commonly spread misinformation and stereotyping in reporting as well as the impact of
  • Media outlets must include people of color in the editorial process.

Color Of Change and Family Story co-commissioned “Dangerous Distortion,” a report from Travis Dixon, Professor of Communication and the Communication Alumni Professorial Scholar at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.”

“This study represents one of the first content analyses to systematically examine the link between family depictions and stereotypical framing in the context of news programming,” noted Dixon. “I am so appreciative to have had the opportunity to work with Family Story and Color Of Change to undertake such an expansive examination of family portrayals in news and opinion programming. The study has practical and theoretical implications that will be of interests to journalists, social justice activists, and scholars.”

This report is the first of its kind to examine the racial disparities in news and media opinion coverage of families.

To see the full report visit: familystoryproject.org/dangerousdistortion

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