"Bridging the Racial Divide" Provides Important Perspective

Media shapes perspectives of race. Race shapes perspectives on the media.

Those are two indisputable facts that emerged during the powerful look at the Detroit media’s impact on race relations that aired last week on Detroit Public Television (simulcast on WJR-AM and WDET-FM). I finally got a chance to see it on my DVR last night.

Co-hosted by Emery King and Paul W. Smith and populated by a panel of current and former journalists – but nobody from any of Detroit’s TV news operations – the program touched on subjects not normally broached on television. Positive credit should be given to the media representatives who did participate in the panel and pre-taped discussions – John X. Miller from the Detroit Media Partnership, Caesar Andrews from the Free Press, Rich Homberg from WWJ-AM, Steve Stewart from WJR-AM, Mildred Gaddis from WCHB-AM, Rochelle Riley from the Free Press and Nolan Finley from the Detroit News. They were joined by educators and former journalists Mike Lewis of Oakland University and Ben Burns of Wayne State, along with their students.

A few points worth remembering:

*Rochelle Riley astutely pointed out that “people underestimate the (power of the) media.” That statement is a reminder for citizens, leaders and journalists – something we talk about at Tanner Friedman every day.

*68% of the auditorium audience at Oakland University said that media has “negative” impact on race relations.

*When it comes to TV news, 90% of the audience said that TV has a “negative” or “very negative impact” on race relations. What makes that fact seven more significant is that the audience said TV news is their most frequent source of local information. My former Channel 4 colleague Mike Lewis said his research shows “night after night, year after year” coverage of minorities shapes opinions, generally negatively.

Thankfully, there will be a Part 4 of this ongoing series, this Fall.