Leading the Way & Providing Critical Coverage
Black Media has Greater Coverage on Issues of Importance to Black Communities
Looking at the concept of attention to topics through the metric of normalized percent of stories matching our topic queries, we can see that Black media has higher coverage levels on several key issues. Not only did Black media write more about issues such as racism, health disparities, and voting access, but the proportion of coverage these issues accounted for in Black media was as much as six times higher than in mainstream media.
Nearly one in every four articles in Black media mentioned racism and related issues.
Racism, Black Lives Matter, and Police Brutality
Notably, the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor were the subtopics in which Black media had the most significantly higher coverage over mainstream media, dedicating approximately six times the amount of coverage to them. In fact, Black media paid more attention to Breonna Taylor (2.58% of coverage) than mainstream media paid to George Floyd (2.37% of coverage), despite Floyd’s murder being the most covered of any racism subtopic by mainstream media. Coverage of Breonna Taylor is also an example of Black media emphasizing a story earlier than mainstream media, a finding detailed later in this report.
The single highest day of coverage to the subject of racism by Black media was June 14, 2020, when coverage reached 68% of stories amid massive national response to the murder of George Floyd. This is twice the level of the highest date in mainstream media, when coverage reached 34% on June 7, 2020. Between late May and early June 2020, in the height of the news cycle around Floyd’s killing, peak date levels of coverage to racism subtopics were consistently twice as high in Black media as in mainstream media.
Interestingly, the most marked difference in coverage levels at peak dates is for the subtopic of white supremacy/privilege. This points to a difference in framing between Black media and mainstream media of Floyd’s murder and aftermath, where Black media were bringing in the thematic issue of white supremacy.
Figure I. Headline from Black Star News in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing protests
Juneteenth was one other news event where peak daily coverage was twice as high in Black media than in mainstream media. On Juneteenth 2020, 32% of all articles in Black media mentioned Juneteenth, slavery, reparations, or ADOS (American Descendants of Slavery), while only 12% of articles in mainstream media mentioned the terms.
While Black media and mainstream media had similar proportions of coverage to the coronavirus pandemic (41% of all articles in Black media, and 43% of all articles in mainstream media), there were two subtopics in which Black media had notably higher coverage: the disproportionate racial impact of the pandemic, and essential or frontline workers.
Within coronavirus coverage, the proportion of articles mentioning structural, systemic, or clinical racism, health disparities or inequities, or disproportionate impacts on Black people or communities was five times higher in Black media than in mainstream media. Such articles accounted for only 1.18% of mainstream media’s coronavirus coverage, but 6.29% of Black media’s.
Similarly, within coronavirus coverage, Black media mentioned essential or frontline workers in 3.37% of stories, while mainstream media mentioned these workers in only 1.75% of coronavirus stories, a difference of nearly a factor of two. Again, during the first wave of the pandemic in April and May 2020, daily coverage to COVID-19 and frontline or essential workers reached almost 6.5% of all stories published by Black media, while staying below 2.5% of all stories in mainstream media.
Black media covered all of our selected health subtopics at higher levels than mainstream media. The health conditions and subtopics were specifically selected by the research team for their pertinence to Black individuals and communities. Similar to what was seen in coronavirus coverage, health disparities was the subtopic with the greatest difference in coverage levels between Black and mainstream media.
Health disparities is the subtopic that had the greatest difference in overall coverage between Black media and mainstream media. When looking specifically at how many health stories are about health disparities we see a similar ratio between the two media ecosystems: health disparities were mentioned in over 8% of health stories in Black media, and only 2% of health stories in mainstream media.
Similarly, medical mis/distrust is mentioned in over 3% of health stories in Black media, and on individual dates coverage rose to as high as 4% to 5% of all stories. But in mainstream media, only 1.5% of health stories mentioned the subtopic, and on no single day did coverage reach 2% of all stories. This was at a time when the issue of medical trust has been of national importance with the rollout of the coronavirus prevention measures, including vaccines.
In Black media, voting access was mentioned in 4% of all stories, and 12% of politics stories. Coverage reached a peak of over 18% of all stories in July 2020, in reporting on the death of Representative John Lewis. Comparatively, in mainstream media, voting access was mentioned in less than 1.5% of stories overall and 5% of politics stories, and there was no discernible increase to the subject around any key events. This is particularly notable as the query parameters for voting access included the terms “voter registration” and “mail-in voting”; despite mail-in voting being a large component of mainstream media’s political coverage in conjunction with accusations of a fraudulent election, Black media still covered the overall issue more than twice as frequently.
Vice President Kamala Harris also received more than twice as much coverage in Black media than mainstream media. The peak of her coverage was on Election Day, when she was mentioned in 39% of all stories in Black media, and just 15% of all stories in mainstream media. For the entire research time period, which included her serving as vice president, she was mentioned in 3.8% of all stories in Black media, and just 1.3% of stories in mainstream media.
Africa and the Diaspora
Figure II. Article excerpt from The Conversation, example of content from mainstream media that mentions Africa
Figure III. Article excerpt from Jacksonville Free Press, example of content from Black media that mentions African and diaspora countries
Table IV. Countries Mentioned Most Frequently in Coverage of Africa and the Diaspora in Black Media
Table V. Countries Mentioned Most Frequently in Coverage of Africa and the Diaspora in Mainstream Media
Black Media Leads the Way on Topics Related to Race
On subjects related to race, Black media not only has consistently higher levels of coverage than mainstream media, but also puts focus on key race-related stories earlier in the news cycle than mainstream media. A clear way to observe this pattern is to compare daily coverage levels for a news topic over time.
Disproportionate Racial Impact of COVID-19
As noted earlier, coverage levels to the disproportionate racial impact of the pandemic were five times higher in Black media than in mainstream media. Examining daily coverage levels over time, Black media’s coverage quickly climbs to a peak of nearly 2.5% of all stories published within the first month of the pandemic. By April 8, coverage had reached a primary peak of nearly 7.5% of all stories. At the same time, mainstream media was only starting to cover the issue, with less than 1% of stories mentioning it. Mainstream media did not reach a peak of coverage to the issue until two months later on June 6; even then, coverage was just 2.65% of all stories. It was also tied in with coverage about George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing racial justice social movement.