Racial Bias in Media Reporting


Racial bias reporting has affected the media industry since time immemorial. It has been raising controversial standards and topics across the globe. From the coverage of protests and with a bias to not covering crimes against humanity during such protests, the shooting of black men by policemen and the other form of negative stereotyping that the media has been portraying contributes to systemic racism. Orientalism refers to a form of media bias in which the western media has been presenting the people from the Middle East and Asia as exotic, primitive, and inferior to the west, which has translated to marginalization, and subjugation of the subject (Said, 1978).

The media has a responsibility to play in line with shaping public opinion and view towards a certain direction; hence it’s their responsibility to ensure accuracy and inclusivity in the coverage and presentation of the global community with no fear of contraction. However, this has yet to be what they have been portraying; studies have shown that the media has failed terribly. Lack of diversity and inclusivity in reporting and gathering the required information among the newsrooms have been attributed to the avenue of reporting biasness. In addition, editors and journalists have indulged in biasness in reporting. Other factors include implicit bias, editorial and cooperate pressure, racism stereotyping, and framing.

Racial bias and Orientalism in media have perpetuated prejudice and discrimination among the marginalized community. It also perpetuates systemic inequalities by shaping public policies and attitudes towards a particular people or culture. Therefore, it contributes to the marginalization of minority groups to a level of undermining their social, economic, and political abilities.   The above harmful impact of racial bias and Orientalism in media reporting makes it important to address the concerns. This literature review investigates the works done by different scholars on racial bias and Orientalism in media reporting, not limited to the causes and the proposed method of addressing it. 

Lack of diversity in newsrooms

News media companies with less racial and ethnic diversity have been found to have a higher likelihood of producing biased reports. According to Tuchman (1972), a lack of diversity can lead to a narrow perspective on topics about a culture under investigation since there is a shortage of experience and limited understanding it the communities not represented. In other words, reporters are more likely to report based on stereotypes and generalizations if dealing with communities outside their own. Studies have found that there needs to be more representation where people of color comprise 22% of all newsroom employees. Another study by The woman Media Center (2020) revealed very little representation of women of color in the news media.

The American Society of News Editors conducted a study in 2019 to investigate diversity in newsrooms. It revealed that although 40% of the American population were people of color, only 21% were represented in the new rooms. Additionally, in the study, women were 41% of the news staff despite them being more than 50% of the population. The above lack of diversity in newsrooms is attributed to a narrower range of perspectives and experiences, translating to reporting biases. Increased diversity translates to more accurate and nuanced reporting this is according to Plaisance and Colleagues (2017). They found out that newsrooms with a more diverse staff produced more accurate reporting hence challenging stereotypes and biases.

Implicit Bias

Implicit biases refer to the unconscious beliefs and attitudes that interfere with our percepts and actions. In these cases, biasness is based on personal experience and cultural differences. Gilliam and Iyenger(2000) found that implicit bias  potentially translates to biased reporting. For instance, a reporter and editors brought up in predominantly White culture may have implicit biases towards people of color hence affecting their reporting. A study by Ford Foundation(2017) revealed that editors and journalists of color are likely to cover topics related to race and ethnicity and are more likely to provide nuance over the issues, unlike their white counterparts. A close look at implicit biasness among journalism students revealed that students with stronger implicit biasness had a higher likely hood of showing a negative attitude towards the minority group; hence they most definitely exhibited biasness in reporting (Devine & colleagues 2012). Implicit bias has a stronger influence on hiring decision-making in the media industry. Davido and Colegues (2019) found that implicit bias can lead to discrimination in the hiring process even when an individual is not consciously aware of their biases. 

Racism in the Institutions

Institutionalized racism refers to how instructions and the structure of society propagate inequalities and discrimination against relegated communities. According to Croteau and Hoynes(2012), over the past few decades, media has  been used as a tool of oppression against relegated groups through the spreading of negative stereotyping hence contribution to over-policing. For instance, reporting and covering crime incidences has always portrayed people of color as criminals, reinforcing negative stereotyping. Another study investigating racism in media institutions by the Women’s Media Center(2018) found that women were highly underrepresented in media companies, where only 7.5% of the women leader are women of color. Their report also indicated that women of color were always tokenized and marginalized; hence their perspectives and experience were ignored. In addition to the above studies, Cho and colleagues (2013) examined institutionalized racism in Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Their study found that Hollywood was predominantly dominated by white males and had very little opportunity for people of color. This systemic exclusion facilitated the perpetual racial stereotyping and underrepresentation of minorities.

Stereotyping and framing

Stereotyping refers to generalizing issues based on one perspective about a group of people or a community. Framing, on the other hand, media present refers to how topics.   Stereotyping and framing shape how the audience understands and interprets different topics in a news broadcast. In other words, framing and stereotyping will always emphasize certain issues and downplay others. One of the studies that investigated the above is by Eastman and Rocjekis(2000), which examined the coverage of the 1992 Los ageless riots. The investigation revealed that the media relied on racial stereotyping. The newsrooms of the time were forced to depict black rioters are thugs. The above biasness contributed to the building up the public perception that rioting is solemnly a thing for black criminals; hence they ignored the issues that led to the unrest.

Mastro and Behm-Horowitz (2017)  investigated the representation of Asian American in the media. They revealed that Asian American were often portrayed as a foreigner who was difficult to understand and was culturally different from white Americans. This, therefore, led to their marginalization and their exclusion from mainstream society. Another study on how media covered the O.J. Simpson trial revealed that media framing of the case as a racial affair propagated increased racial polarization and hence a negative attitude towards back American (Dixon & Linz,2000). Similarly, a media framing of immigrants investigated by Bonilla-Silva and Dietrich (2011) revealed that the media focuses more on illegal immigration and its criminality, contributing to negative stereotyping and a more sticker follow-up of the communities involved. 

Addressing Racial Bias in media reporting

Several studies have found a different way newsrooms can address racial bias in media reporting. The American Society of News Editors(ASNE)  found out that newsrooms with diversity in staffing are more accurate and can cover a wider range of topics challenging stereotyping at its core. The Media, Diversity, & Social Change initiative of Southern California revealed that media companies could collaborate with organizations like schools of media to recruit staff from underrepresented groups. Mentorship and training programs to provide growth in a leadership position among marginalized communities. Several media institutions have developed editorial guidelines that address racial bias in media reporting. The New York Times has developed guidelines that encourage journalists to be mindful of the impact of their reporting on marginalized communities and to seek out diverse sources and perspectives (The New York Times, 2019).

Similarly, the Associated Press has developed guidelines that address issues related to framing and language use in coverage of race-related issues (Associated Press, 2019). Media institutions can also implement training programs to help journalists recognize their biases and produce more representative and nuanced reporting. The Solutions Journalism Network has developed a training program focusing on how journalists can use solutions-oriented reporting to address racial disparities and other social issues (Solutions Journalism Network, n.d.). Similarly, the Poynter Institute has developed a training program focusing on how journalists can cover race-related issues more fairly and accurately (Poynter Institute, n.d.).

In conclusion, the factors perpetuating racial bias and discrimination within media reporting must be addressed. Media institutions should prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion training to address implicit biases. This can be done by investing in efforts to recruit and retain diverse staff and provide underrepresented groups opportunities to advance leadership positions.


Reference list

Alim, H. S., & Smitherman, G. (2012). Articulate while black: Barack Obama, language, and race in the U.S. Oxford University Press.

American Society of News Editors. (2018). Newsroom diversity survey. https://asne.org/content.asp?contentid=223

Associated Press. (2019). AP Stylebook changes. https://www.apstylebook.com/blog/2019/ap-stylebook-changes-2019

Entman, R. M. (1992). Blacks in the news: Television, modern racism and cultural change. Journalism Quarterly, 69(2), 341-361.

Hunt, D., Ramón, M., & Channell, C. (2018). Diversity in the newsroom: A resource guide for understanding and reporting on race, ethnicity and culture. Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative. https://annenberg.usc.edu/sites/default/files/2018/03/02/MDSCI_DiversityInTheNewsroom_ResourceGuide.pdf

Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative. (2019). Inequality in 1,100 popular films: Examining portrayals of gender, race/ethnicity, LGBTQ & disability from 2007 to 2017. https://annenberg.usc.edu/research/mdsci/inequality-1100-popular-films

Pew Research Center. (2018). The changing landscape of news consumption in the U.S. https://www.journalism.org/2018/09/10/the-changing-landscape-of-news-consumption-in-the-u-s/

Poynter Institute. (n.d.). Covering race in 2020. https://www.poynter.org/covering-race-in-america-2020

Solutions Journalism Network. (n.d.). Racial disparities. https://www.solutionsjournalism.org/topics/racial-disparities

The New York Times. (2019). The New York Times’ editorial guidelines. https://www.nytco.com/wp-content/uploads/NYT-Editorial-Guidelines-9.24.19.pdf


Yousman, B. (2013). Framing Muslims: Stereotyping and representation after 9/11. Harvard University Press.