Deggans: ‘Media can teach us how to react to the ‘other”
Eric Deggans’ photo appears.
If we break down the walls of systemic racism, what we get is our best minds on the front lines of our most pressing problems. And when those problems get solved, everybody benefits, right? If we figure out a way
to bring health care to everyone, everyone benefits. If we figure out a way to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and reduce global warming, everybody benefits. It does not have to be a 0 sum game.
Eric Deggans doesn’t think there’s much point in debating whether President Donald Trump is a racist.
No one can look inside his head, said the author of “Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation.” Instead, they can evaluate his actions and words, and their impact.
Deggans, BA’90, is NPR’s TV critic, a media watchdog and a Media School Distinguished Alumni Award recipient. In his virtual Speaker Series talk, “Building Bridges, Not Walls: Decoding Media’s Confusing Coverage of Race, Gender and Society,” on Monday, he laid out practical advice for addressing racial issues in media coverage.
“Race-Baiter” pulls from 10 years of journalism on the intersection of race, media, politics and social issues.
“I try to talk about how all these things kind of come together to affect coverage,” Deggans said. “And more and more, these are the kind of subjects you’re going to be covering when you go out into the world.”
Deggans emphasized the importance of covering race consistently and often — not just during a crisis — similar to how journalists cover the stock market every day. He applauded news organizations such as The New York Times for making these kinds of intentional improvements lately.
And he encouraged reporters to learn how to reference race even when it’s just a small part of the story.
“We have gotten very good in journalism at avoiding talking about race unless we absolutely have to,” he said.
Another tip: Seek out diverse cultural translators. Often, the same people are quoted over and over again about issues involving race. He encouraged reporters to ask their usual sources to refer them to someone new to get more voices and opinions out there.
Deggans also encouraged students to be more media literate and recognize four types of racism that often distort media:
- Bigotry denial syndrome: when a person believes that because she doesn’t believe her race is superior, she can’t perpetuate or encourage racism, prejudice and stereotypes.
- Situational racism: using prejudice and stereotypes against selected people of color, often those you dislike.
- Strategic racism: stereotypes of marginalized groups used for political, material goals.
- White privilege: benefits extended in society to white people, often taken for granted or unspoken.
Responsibly reporting on race and fairly depicting people of color is an issue of accuracy — but it can also have life or death consequences, Deggans said.
“Media can teach us how to react to the other,” he said.
He alluded to the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin. When someone has to make a split-second decision, it may be impacted by whether they’ve mostly consumed stories that depict Black people as criminals or have consumed accurate, equitable coverage.
Student journalists are advocating for more diversity in media, and Deggans encouraged them to have conversations with editors about changes that need to be made inside of the newsroom in advocating for racial diversity.
“I’m hoping that people who run media organizations are getting the message that people of color on their staff can be resources and that they should be turning to even young people for advice and guidance on how to cover communities of color and how to do a better job of adding those voices to coverage,” Deggans said.