More than a year after the death of George Floyd sparked a national conversation about racial inequality, new research shows the Black community has mixed reactions about whether the racial climate has changed, reflecting a sense of optimism tempered with cautious skepticism. While there are concerns about how Blacks are portrayed by the media, the study, conducted by Horowitz Research in conjunction with iHeartMedia, underscores the deep emotional connection Black consumers have with radio.
To mark the one year anniversary of the launch of the Black Information Network, iHeart commissioned the “BIN Race In America Study,” based on a series of national interviews and surveys to look at what’s changed in the last 12 months.
“Overall there’s been a sense of optimism that George Floyd’s death and the events that followed will affect change in the U.S.” said Hetal Patel, Executive VP of Research & Insights at iHeart. “There’s a collective sense of community where everyone’s fighting for everyone, whether that be for the Black Lives movement or LGBTQ movements. However that optimism comes with cautious skepticism.”
Black Americans surveyed pointed to specific actions the media can take to have a high impact on race-related issues. Most significantly, the research showed a need for media outlets to change the way Black people are presented in both news and scripted content. “There is a feeling that Black people were typically portrayed more negatively, unless it was following the death of a Black celebrity,” Patel told a webinar audience Tuesday.
Respondents also said they would like to see more media companies focused on serving the Black community and employing more Black executives. “The telling of Black stories by Black voices is a crucial step toward proper representation,” she added.
Black Radio’s Influence
For radio, the research – which comprised in depth interviews, and survey data – reinforced the deep emotional bond Black consumers have developed with AM/FM. “Radio is used as a centralized meeting point for following events and moments important to the Black community,” Patel explained. “In particular the DJs and the personalities they hear are authentic and have built trust with their audiences, making them among the most influential people in shaping their opinions. That’s the type of relationship and impact that they share with their DJs.”
The study shows that, when compared to the general population, Black adults are 64% more likely to say radio DJs and personalities influence their opinions. Radio personalities out-performed writers/poets, athletes, musicians, actors and social media influencers in this regard.
During the interviews, media hosts who were identified as influential and advocates for racial equity included Charlamagne Tha God, Steve Harvey and BIN journalist and commentator Roland Martin.
“What came through clear was the importance of Black radio to the community and that importance can’t be understated,” Patel elaborated. “By providing a safe and authentic space to hear Black voices, Black radio has built a trust with the community. Black-owned or Black-managed news media provides an unbiased relatable perspective on topics and issues facing the Black Americans.”
She went on to say the research showed a desire for coverage on a broader range of news stories “from a multi-dimensional non-monolithic perspective.” In fact, the study uncovered a belief that the media treats the Black audience as a monolith, ignoring the nuances and spectrum of voices embodied in the community.
The webinar, moderated by BIN President Tony Coles, included perspective from a pair of the network’s news anchors. Louisville-based Jelisa Chartman said she likes telling stories of Black people “doing unconventional things” to help dispel the myth of Black culture as monolithic. “As a Black girl who loves hiking, and loves fishing and loves drinking beer, I love sharing the stories of other people that I feel I can connect to in that way,” she told the webinar audience.
While both Chartman and New Jersey-based Vanessa Tyler have reported for mainstream news outlets, this marks the first time they have worked in a newsroom whose goal is to provide 24/7 news coverage with a Black voice and perspective. “The difference at the Black Information Network is that we have the mindset of telling Black stories,” said Tyler. “That’s not to say we’re all from the same perspective… We bring all of our different experiences together to inform our community, to inform our audience.”