When someone we know provides an account of an event, we generally know how to interpret their individual take; we probably know when they’re likely to get dramatic or when they’re likely to downplay something. We make our own adjustments to what we’ve heard in order to get closer to the truth. Do we know how to make the same kinds of adjustments with major news sources? We, as individuals, may not, but there are organizations and projects, such as Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, that monitor news media. They observe and analyze the reporting in order to inform and advise journalists and the general public about possible subtle slants in the coverage. In this January 2022 report, Nieman’s deputy editor Shraddha Chakradhar summarizes a report analyzing news coverage of 2020 protests against police brutality in the daily newspapers of three cities where major incidents have occurred.
Read it here.
EXPLORE, REFLECT, SPEAK UP.
1. Chakradhar reports on a research project that examined coverage of certain categories of news stories in three daily newspapers for the year 2020. How well does she explain the methodology of the research project? What exactly were the researchers measuring or counting? Are the “dehumanizing” and “distancing” terms explained clearly? Why were those specific newspapers chosen?
2. Chakradhar uses a number of charts in this article to help clarify the findings, which are presented in pretty abstract terms. Did you find the visual illustrations useful in understanding the data being presented? If so, how specifically were they helpful? What advice might you offer the author for making the visuals even more effective and useful?
3. LET’S TALK. Examine the crime and/or policing coverage in a daily newspaper of your choice. Carefully read seven days of coverage and make a record of instances of dehumanizing language and distancing language, as Chakradhar explains those terms, in the paper’s coverage of protests and local crime. In your record, note information about what occurred, who was involved, what racial or ethnic dynamics may have been involved, and any other details you may find relevant. Then, work with a few classmates to share and compare your findings. If two or more of you worked with the same newspaper, were your findings similar? Why or why not? If you worked with different papers, how do they compare? What kinds of generalizations can you make? How well do the papers you examined score on measures of avoiding dehumanizing language? distancing language?
4. AND NOW WRITE. You may get more of your news from your social media feeds than from newspapers, or perhaps you watch TV news or listen to radio broadcasts or podcasts. Dehumanizing language and distancing language can be found in those media, too. Pay careful attention to whatever kind of news you consume for three days, and keep a record of the kinds of coverage that Chakradhar discusses in her report. How do your preferred media measure up to what the report found? Write an essay that summarizes the results that you find and compares them to Chakradhar’s report. (You will have far less data to analyze than her report, but you may find some significant similarities or differences.)