Centering the Community
Black Media Centers Community in Coverage
Language used in coverage can provide powerful insights about the narrative focus and frame of the media. Looking at the most frequently used words in stories about our topics at scale, a trend emerges where keywords used frequently and uniquely by Black media show a humanization of the people involved in or impacted by the news. All of the following terms were part of the top 100 words in Black media’s coverage, and not in the top words for mainstream media.
- “Victims” in police brutality coverage
- “Son” in police shooting coverage
- “Mother” in coverage to Africa
- “Care” in coverage of social distancing (COVID), anti-mask, mass incarceration, immigration mentions in political coverage, and sexism and #MeToo
- “Pain” in coverage of sickle cell disease, and “suffer/suffering” in coverage of diabetes and hypertension
Figure IV. Article excerpt from The Bay State Banner on subtopic of police shooting
Figure V. Word tree of keyword “pain” in context in coverage of sickle cell disease
Click on the image to see a higher resolution version.
Similarly, Black media consistently has certain social identities emphasized for a variety of topics – Black people, community, family, women, and children foremost among them. Mainstream media did not use these words with similar frequency.
Black media uniquely centered the word “Black” in coverage, in an explicit naming of Black people and communities in reporting the news. The word “Black” was consistently in the most frequently used 100 words for the topics and subtopics we studied, and in many cases was uniquely prevalent when compared with the top words used by mainstream media.
In COVID coverage, “Black” is in the top words for Black media only. “Black” was uniquely prevalent in Black media for the subtopics of vaccines, social distancing, testing, shutdowns, quarantine, masks, anti-mask, essential and frontline workers, and impact on learning. The only subtopics where mainstream media did include “Black” in the top words were vaccine hesitancy, long COVID, disproportionate racial impact, and comorbidities and risk factors.
Similarly, in overall health coverage, “Black” was in the top 100 words for Black media but not in mainstream media. “Black” was also uniquely prevalent in coverage of the subtopic of healthcare, and the subtopic of HIV/AIDS; this oversight on the part of mainstream media in HIV coverage is particularly concerning, as Black people are disproportionately impacted by the disease, making up 13% of the population but 42% of new HIV diagnoses.
Figure VI. Article from Essence.com on HIV/AIDS subtopic
In politics coverage, Black media uniquely included the word “Black” among top words for coverage of Donald Trump and coverage of conservatives. This indicates a persistent news lens used by Black media in political news that is not shared by mainstream media.
Figure VII. Word tree for the keyword “Black” in context in coverage of Donald Trump in Black media
Community and Family
The words “community” or “communities” appeared in the 100 most frequently used words in Black media, but not mainstream media, for coverage of the following disparate topics:
- COVID-19: overall COVID coverage, vaccines, social distancing, testing, quarantine, masks, and comorbidities and risk factors
- Racism: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor
- Politics: overall politics coverage, voting access, Kamala Harris, and Joe Biden
- Culture: coverage to Africa and the diaspora, and sexism and #MeToo
Figure VIII. Article excerpt from Austin Weekly News, featuring “community” in COVID coverage
The words “family” or “families” are similarly emphasized uniquely in coverage of:
- COVID-19: vaccine hesitancy, anti-mask, social distancing, shutdowns, testing, and masks
- Health: health disparities, healthcare, sickle cell disease, and HIV/AIDS
- Racism: abolish police, Black Lives Matter, and slavery/Juneteenth
- Politics: immigration mentions in political coverage
Figure IX. Article from The Haitian Times emphasizing “family” in immigration and politics coverage
Black media centered women in reporting across subject areas in a way mainstream media did not. The term “women” appeared in the 100 most frequently used words in Black media, but not mainstream media, for coverage of the following disparate topics:
- COVID-19: long COVID, and impact on learning
- Health: overall health coverage, suicide, healthcare, non-COVID health coverage, HIV/AIDS, hypertension, and diabetes
- Racism: overall racism coverage, mass incarceration, racial profiling, Breonna Taylor, slavery/Juneteenth, and Black Lives Matter (where “girls” was in the top for Black media only)
- Politics: overall politics coverage, and immigration mentions in political coverage
- Culture: coverage to Africa, sexism and #MeToo (where “girls” was in the top for Black media only), and Hispanic/Latinx (where “Latina” was in the top for Black media only)
Black media also centers individual women in a notable way that is different from mainstream media. Breonna Taylor was frequently mentioned in Black media’s coverage of police brutality during this time period, but not in mainstream media. Similarly, Tarana Burke’s name was among the most frequently used terms in Black media’s coverage of sexism and #MeToo, and was conspicuously absent from mainstream media’s coverage; while the word “women” was present in the top words for the subtopic, mainstream media’s coverage was missing a focus on the individual woman who founded the movement. Finally, in a sobering example, Wanda Cooper-Jones, Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, was among the top words used by Black media in coverage about him, which was not true of mainstream media.
Figure X. Excerpt of widely syndicated article in Black media sources originally by NNPA Newswire and published in Chicago Defender, featuring Wanda Cooper-Jones
Children and Students
Black media uniquely focused on children, youth, schools and students. Across subject areas, these terms were among the most frequently used by Black media, which was not mirrored in mainstream media.
“Child,” “children,” or “youth” appeared in the top 100 most frequently used words in Black media’s coverage, but not mainstream media’s, for coverage of the following topics:
- COVID-19: shutdowns, and comorbidities and risk factors
- Health: non-COVID health coverage, and suicide
- Racism: mass incarceration
- Politics: immigration within political coverage
- Culture: coverage to Africa, Hispanic/Latinx, and religion
Figure XI. Article published in the Seattle Medium featuring children in coverage of mass incarceration and suicide
“School” or “students” were similarly uniquely prevalent in coverage of the following topics:
- COVID-19: vaccine hesitancy, long COVID, shutdowns, and comorbidities and risk factors
- Health: health disparities, medical mis/distrust, healthcare, and non-COVID health coverage
- Racism: overall racism coverage, and mass incarceration
- Politics: voting access
- Culture: sexism and #MeToo, Hispanic/Latinx, and religion