On anniversary of Trayvon Martin shooting, journalist reflects on reporting race in the U.S.
Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, on Feb. 26, 2012, one year ago yesterday.
Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder for the shooting death and pleaded not guilty.
The shooting of a black teenager in Sanford, Fla. set off a nation-wide debate about racism in the United States and Florida’s controversial “Stand your ground” law. A year later, Eric Deggans wrote an article for Poynter’s website about what lessons the media should take away from the case and how it can better address race in its reporting.
One of the main recommendations Deggans’ offered was for journalists to avoid the “myth of life pitfalls” in deciding what is newsworthy. “Myth of life” stories focus on events that fall outside the common perception of how life should work, “White suburbanites rarely are shot to death or black teens from poor neighborhoods often don’t get into Ivy League colleges,” Deggans explained. Because of this mentality, he argued that journalists fall back on tropes like the stereotyping of black males to fill the news cycle in the absence of the answers the public wanted.
Deggans suggested that journalists keep their heads down in this environment and focus on the facts:
“In the Martin case, the toughest task journalists may face is ignoring the perceptions and judgments of the outside world to focus on telling the most accurate, incisive stories possible.”
Deggans also listed reflex, fear, avoidance, and a lack of history about the communities journalists cover as other hurdles when reporting on race. In an earlier essay about the case, Deggans suggested that greater diversity in the newsroom would lead to improved “accuracy and fairness,” to address this last point.
Unfortunately, it may be a long time coming. Despite growing demographic shifts in the United States, minority employment in the U.S. media remains at discouragingly low levels, especially at newspapers. According to a 2012 report from the American Society of News Editors and the Center for Advanced Social Research at the Missouri School of Journalism, minorities comprise only 12.3 percent of those employed by U.S. newsrooms, down from a high of 13.7 percent in 2006.
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