Portrayal of Blacks in the MediaTags: , ,

SUBMITTED BY: Mintel Group, Ltd.

In June 2011, Kathy Times, president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), issued an open letter to network executives and editors on the lack of diversity in news. The letter included:

“People of color comprise more than a third of the U.S. population. The 2010 census shows the minority population is growing from coast to coast, and the majority of children in the U.S. will be minorities by 2050. So, there’s a strong case to be made that news media is running in the wrong direction of its audience. The Big 3 networks and cable news channels have undergone a series of rare changes behind the desk. While the replacements are all seasoned journalists, what is glaringly missing in the flurry of changes is the failure to elevate African-Americans to any of these positions.”

According to Black respondents to Mintel’s exclusive survey, the media is not living up to consumer expectations in the way it portrays this group. A full 80% of Black respondents indicated that their race/ethnicity is important to them and 82% indicated that it’s important to them that Blacks are viewed positively in the media. This contrasts sharply with the low 15% who indicate that the media is portraying Black men positively and 26% who believe it is portraying Black women as such. Further, less than 20% of respondents indicated that they believe the media does a good job of reflecting Black culture today. There is clearly a strong divide between expectation and execution that needs to be closed in order to gain favor with Black audiences.

In May 2011, Columbia Journalism Review ran an article on the wave of Black journalists returning to Black media channels. “With increasing frequency, African-American journalists are reversing the once common trajectory from the Black press to the mainstream. New ventures like HuffPost Global Black, a vertical for Arianna Huffington’s widely read website that will be launched in partnership with Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, are likely to quicken the pace.”

The article points out that one benefit of such a trend is the bolstering of new and dynamic voices within Black media channels. The flipside of this, however, is the growing scarcity of diverse perspectives in mainstream outlets. Given this shift, the coming years might bring an increased polarization in this media-consuming audience, with more Black consumers shifting away from mainstream channels and toward the sentient voices found in the Black press. This trend is discussed in greater detail in the Newspapers section of this report.

Women would like to see Blacks portrayed positively in the media

Black women indicate a higher-than-average interest in seeing more Blacks in all forms of media (TV, movies, and advertisements). This might be an indication that women are more in tune as to how Blacks are portrayed in the media, quite possibly because they would like to see their children grow up having positive images and role models, something often lacking in Black communities. The indication is that if done well, women will be drawn to media that portray African-Americans in a more positive light.

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Older respondents place a greater importance on race

Black respondents aged 55+ place greater importance on race than do all other age groups. A higher-than-average 86% of this group indicated that their race/ethnicity is important to them, compared to the 77% of 18-24 year olds (the lowest measure recorded by any of the age groups). Such a response pattern should come as no surprise. Blacks aged 55+ are unique in this respondent pool in that they would have experienced the pre- and post-Civil Rights movement firsthand. As such, race has been a strong element of identity for this group, not only for longer, but also with the utmost degree of focus, struggle, progress, and challenge. It will be interesting to see how or if these figures shift as the population ages and the number of Blacks with pre-Civil Rights memories gets smaller.

Nearly eight in 10 Black respondents of all ages report that they would like to see more Black models/actors used in advertisements, meaning that marketers should cast their ads in a way that reflects the racial make-up of this audience along with a culturally relevant message, especially when pitching to Blacks aged 45+. To this end, it is naïve to think that media outlets attempting to cater to Black audiences can get away with simply infusing their content with Black characters. The content itself needs to resonate.

At present, slightly more than one-fourth of respondents from all age groups find positive portrayals of Black women in the media but that drops down to 19% when asked about the positive portrayal of Black men in the media.

Respondents aged 45+ were the most likely to indicate that it is important that Blacks are portrayed positively in the media and the greatest dissatisfaction with how this is being done at present. This group indicates that despite the media’s failure to do this in a desirable light, they’d still like to see more Black representation in all aspects of media measured. Attracting a greater share of older consumers will include highlighting Blacks in a positive light and crafting messages that resonate with this consumer group.

Shining a light on the opinions of the youngest respondents (aged 18-24) finds that while 77% indicate race/ethnicity is important to them, this importance manifests in slightly lower rates among this group than is the case among general respondents. They indicate at lower-than-average levels that a positive view of Blacks in the media is important to them. Further, this group is slightly less interested than average in seeing more Black people utilized in the media and less than half indicated that they would be more apt to purchase a product if the advertisement portrayed Blacks positively.

This increased skepticism compared to other age groups may be due to the fact that younger people live in a more multicultural society, which could be the reason why younger Black adults are slightly less likely to identify their race as something that is very important to them. It remains to be seen whether such responses are generational or aged-based. It is possible that as these youngest respondents age, they will grow increasingly concerned with their race as a form of identity.

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