Who’s Affected by the News?

In short, you. In long, everyone. The news media informs us about the world around us, but their role extends beyond the informative. The manner in which news is reported affects our perspective of it and shapes our worldview. Thus changing how we interact with our world.

For example, consider the New York Times’ recent bubble tea article, which immediately provoked outrage for its callousness. (See the article’s original text and post-publication revisions here.) The article ostensibly detailed the emergence of bubble tea as a mainstream trend. But what constitutes mainstream? Here, the New York Times is the arbitrator. In their definition, foreign didn’t count—Bubble tea was definitely out.

The article’s original title? “The Blobs in Your Tea? They’re Supposed to Be There.” When readers noted how dismissive that was, the editors tried again with “Bubble Tea, Long a Niche Favorite, Goes Mainstream in the U.S.” And then again with“Bubble Tea Purveyors Continue to Grow Along with Drink’s Popularity”

After the trio of revised titles (and a bevy of in article adjustments), the New York Times issued an apology, expressing regret for the “impression” left by their language. It included a comment from reader Bo Hee Kim explaining the trouble with the article:

The language used in this article, from ‘exotic’ to ‘Far East’ and the unappealing nature of the word ‘blob’ to describe a drink well-known to many Asians and Asian-Americans unintentionally alienates this population from reading this article. It highlights otherness rather than uniqueness, defines familiarity through a nondiverse lens, and for me evokes the unpleasant feelings of being the kid in a nondiverse neighborhood bringing ‘weird’ lunches to school.

The problems he cited occur too frequently and are acknowledged too rarely. It can be difficult to handle matters that are personally unfamiliar appropriately. That’s understandable. And yet newsrooms regularly commit gaffes with experiences and concepts, like bubble tea, that are familiar to many of their readers. Other times it’s weightier matters like riots, protests, and discriminatory encounters. With limited diversity, newsrooms, and more specifically the people in them, are more likely to encountering unfamiliar matters.

How the news is reported is important and it’s dictated by who is doing the reporting. At times, even consequential. Instead of coming away from the article with a better understanding of the bubble tea market, the reader is left with an undue skepticism about this alien new concept. In reality, bubble tea isn’t even new to the United States’ market. Despite the article reading like the NYT had just discovered this exotic delicacy, it wasn’t even their first brush with tone-deaf reviews of bubble tea. Just last December, they issued a prediction titled “Bubble Tea? So 2002. A Sampling of Food-Trend Predictions.” The language is more problematic than the premise and it provides a snapshot of the costs of the all too common dearth of diversity at newspapers across the country.

Given the potency that news media has in shaping public perception, it’s important to consider who it is that’s creating that narrative and who is featured in that narrative. My research focuses on gaining a better understanding of those two factors. Part One is investigating who is reporting the news. Each year, the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) conducts a survey of newspapers across the country regarding the racial/ethnic composition of their newsrooms. Although responding is optional, around 700 newspapers respond each year. Unfortunately, comparing across years is difficult given variations in the responding organizations and the data released by the ASNE. 

To get a sense of how diversity levels at individual newspapers change over time, I collected and charted the more consistent data points from the past eleven years of surveys. Albeit they’re not perfectly precise, the charts are decidedly suggestive of trends in newsroom diversity. I’ve included some newspapers of interest below, but please check out the complete data set here. Just use the dropdown menu in cell A1 of the ‘Summary’ sheet to peruse data for different newspapers. (For greatest comparable value, I only included newspapers that provided data for at least ten of the eleven years.)

National Average Race/Ethnicity by Year as Percentage of Total Staff Washington Post Race/Ethnicity by Year as Percentage of Total Staff Philadelphia Inquirer Race/Ethnicity by Year as Percentage of Total Staff New York Times Race/Ethnicity by Year as Percentage of Total Staff The Denver Post Race/Ethnicity by Year as Percentage of Total Staff St. Louis Post-Dispatch Race/Ethnicity by Year as Percentage of Total Staff

 

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