Every night tens of millions of people across the country tune in to the local news to find out what's happening in their communities. But our newly-released report — the ColorOfChange News Accuracy Report Card — shows local news stations in New York City are playing a harmful role in shaping the narratives that contribute to a dangerous and hostile climate for Black New Yorkers.
Our partners at Media Matters for America monitored hours of footage over a 20 week period from the four largest local network outlets and came to a shocking conclusion: every major network affiliate in New York City is disproportionately focusing their crime reporting on Black suspects, and inaccurately exaggerating the proportion of Black people involved in crime—on average, exaggerating by 24 percentage points.
This inaccurate crime coverage puts Black communities at great risk by feeding the ugly stereotypes that shape the implicit or explicit biases of their audiences, leading to discriminatory hiring practices, biased treatment in courtrooms, and the kinds of brutal treatment by police that took the lives of unarmed Black people like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Akai Gurley. What's more, these stations are simultaneously under-reporting crimes perpetrated by white suspects, which only further cements the implict biases of viewers.
These images also hurt Black youth by contributing to a warped, inconsistent self-image. Research shows repeated exposure to the kinds of negative, dehumanizing stereotypes displayed on a nightly basis by NYC local news stations are demoralizing and reduce the self-esteem and self-expectations of our young people.1
In response, we released the ColorOfChange News Accuracy Report Card to rate the accuracy of their crime coverage, and the results are troubling. Pledge to stand with us and fight to improve local news coverage in NYC, and we'll send you a copy of the full report.
Two Media Matters for America studies2,3 of crime coverage in 2014 uncovered a disturbing pattern — every major network affiliate station in New York City consistently over-represents Black people as perpetrators of crime. Our ColorOfChange News Accuracy Report Card examines the harm their crime coverage is doing to our communities. The results are not pretty: While WNYW/FOX5 received a "B", WNBC and WCBS each received a "D", denoting "Dangerous Coverage;" WABC got a big, fat "F", denoting reporting that is "Outright Hostile" towards Black people.
A few weeks ago, members like you weighed in and told us how harmful news coverage impacts you and your community. We read through all of your comments — some of which have been included in our report — and all of them will be shared with local stations as we seek to open up a candid dialogue with network executives that will result in lasting systemic changes. Among those changes: an end to the disproportionate targeting of Black people in crime coverage, transparency regarding the diversity of newsroom staff, and a greater systemic analysis and diversity of perspectives in their crime reporting.
Will you help us get the word out about the irresponsible and dangerous local news crime coverage in New York City, and the need for these stations to get serious about correcting their reporting practices?
The impact of these practices extends far beyond New York. As the largest media market in the world, local NYC news has the power to influence a wide and populous audience — a metro area of nearly 20 million people. Commitments on the part of these stations to better reporting practices would not only impact a very large number of people, it could also have a cascading impact on crime coverage at affiliates across the country. We urge these stations to show leadership here, and usher in a fairer, more accurate era in crime coverage nationwide.
ColorOfChange is ready and willing to guide the stations toward a basic standard of decency, and away from the inaccurate reporting practices that are harming Black New Yorkers. But the first step is getting these stations to admit they have a reporting problem, and commit themselves to correcting it.
Arisha, Rashad, Matt, Brandi, Dallas and the rest of the ColorOfChange team.
1. "Media Representations and Impact on the Lives of Black Men and Boys," The Opportunity Agenda
2. "REPORT: New York City Television Stations Give Lopsided Coverage To Black Crime," Media Matters for America 08-26-14
3. "REPORT: New York City Television Stations Continue Disproportionate Coverage Of Black Crime," Media Matters for America 03-23-15