Race, Gender, and the Media: A Methods Approach opened yesterday with a discussion of media processes, patterns, and influence on audiences. McCombs and Shaw’s agenda setting theory–which states that media doesn’t tell people what to think, but rather, tells people what to think about (McCombs and Shaw, 1972)–upholds the idea that media provides framing, and often, context for digesting issues. Framing in news media, which is described as “the way journalists construct common scenarios that uphold audience expectations,” reinforces the status quo and can sometimes lead to stereotyping.
When we watched the Antoine Dodson’s interview, I was immediately reminded of other interviews where black people have been stereotyped and exploited for entertainment purposes. WBRZ 2, one of ABC’s affiliates out in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, sometimes frames their stories in ways that portray black women in stereotypically negative ways. Two of WBRZ 2’s infamous interviews are those of April Williams, a CATS public transportation patron, and Hazel London, a witness to a nightclub shooting.
April Williams Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJIPDcrbb_U
Hazel London’s Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIouC-0QMmM
KFOR 4: Sweet Brown:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43PkC2_Bwtw
WLBT: Courtney Barnes/ Ruby Evans:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEog4oDWXyM
Williams’ interview shows her visibly frustrated, mispronouncing/misusing words, and voicing her anger with the unreliable bus system. Through the interview’s framing, Williams can easily fall into the popular ‘angry black woman’ trope, which paints black women as angry, loud, uneducated, and lower class. WBRZ’s interview of London also shows her visibly upset, not at the fact that there was a fatal shooting, but rather that her evening out with her friends was interrupted. For Williams interview, the journalists reporting the story could have used CATS officials or bus drivers but instead chose to present their audience with this deeply problematic interview which upholds a damaging caricature of black women. For London’s interview, the journalist could have gotten a statement from the police regarding the status of victims or even details to try and identify potential suspects. This interview was about a crime, yet there is hardly any information presented!
Both videos feature stereotypical and damaging portrayals of black women, especially for those who don’t have regular exposure to black women outside of the media. The recurring and exploitive usage of black people for news interviews highlights the need for media literacy.
Media literacy, according to the Media Literacy Project, is the “ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media” in order to understand both the subtle and overt messages delivered by all forms of media. With the increasing access to information, it is crucial to look beyond the popular memes of “long periololically time,” “no, not today,” and “ain’t nobody got time for that,” and see the harmful ramifications of repeated exposure to stereotypical characterizations of black people.
Purely for comparison purposes, here’s an example of how the Antoine Dodson interview and story, should have/could have been framed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCl2QPybxKQ
By placing more focus on locating the suspect, interviewing members of the community for information and adding to the human emotion of the story and presenting facts from the officials without exposing the identity of the victim or her family, this story reports the news without being exploitive.