When news media made the conversion to radio from print only, a new era was born in America. The birth of television pushed the mass media to an even more omnipresent place in our society. Today it is impossible to avoid the news media without reverting to a completely hermetic and reclusive state. Newspapers, radio broadcasts, television, and the Internet all stream information into our homes and businesses, information on which people rely to understand world events and local news. However, if the information presented to society is inaccurate, the majority of the public will still believe it to be fact. Subtle messages can easily be entwined with the news to present whatever image the media would like to convey. Additionally, even entertainment in the media has become so closely related to the actual news that it is impossible to separate the two when analyzing the effect of the news media. Reality Television and "Inspired by True Events" shows like Law and Order leave real impressions on the public that will be interpreted subconsciously as if they were factual reports, and news broadcasts present themselves in a fanfare manner to attract viewers for the sake of entertainment. Ideally, the news would be presented in a clear, factual, unbiased manner. Unfortunately, our society is far from ideal, and the media is riddled with prejudicial language and implications. The prejudicial nature of race in the media can be seen in the history of radio and television, the way the general media handles race and ethnicity, and specifically the way local news broadcasts handle this subject.
Long before Americans huddled around the television set or computer screen to get their media fix, the radio broadcasted entertainment and news into the home. Since the 1920s, radio has been shaping and defining American culture and way of thinking. "Radio is arguably the most important electronic invention of the century.... It revolutionized the perceptual habits of the nation." (Douglas, 9) American culture was segregated by race and ethnicity when radio first became a social force, and radio served as a means to encourage that division. Although some opportunities for getting anti-prejudice messaged to the public were offered by the radio, it was largely a tool for the opposite. Radio presentations early on were heavily influenced by the live entertainment habits that were already in existence, and news and entertainment were both presented in a Vaudeville-era style; Vaudeville and Blackface Minstrelsy were of course infused heavily with racial and ethnic bias. "Through blackface performances, white audiences could fulfill their pleasure of 'understanding' of black people while the assurance of the blackface performer's true whiteness kept them (both the white audiences and the white performers portraying the black characters) at a safe distance away from too much reality." (Stark) Both White and Black performers would use blackface makeup to parody African-Americans. When Vaudeville styles hit the radio, it was called "Vaudio" (Nachman 27-49), and no ethnicity was safe. "Many cameo characters' entire routine was confusing words, sputtering non-sequiturs, or conversing in pidgin English -- a vast gallery of stage Germans, Italians, Irish, Swedes, Jews, and Blacks." (Nachman, 30) There was no distinction in the American mind between these Vaudio broadcasts and the informational news that was interspersed around them.
The characters Amos and Andy would introduce radio listeners to a cultural phenomenon of prejudice. Played by white men in radio blackface, these characters were believed to be Black by the radio listeners, and they were very superstitious and ignorant. Despite the hardships these characters encounter, their lives remain carefree. "These characters didn't need a job or even food to survive. The simplicity of their problems were comforting, as in their world problems need not be solved. Audiences were able to sit in front of their radios and laugh as the problems of the world de-intensified as these two black men wandered aimlessly and carefree." (Stockman) For over thirty years these characters would be a part of the media, and unfortunately a part of the news media as well, for appearances on news broadcasts and other public appearances that were related to the news and informational services were the norm.
While radio does not remain the primary source for news media today, it is certainly a large part of the media. There are twelve thousand radio stations in America, with at least eighty distinct formats. There is still a gap in equal representation for racial and ethnic minorities on the radio, and in the news media. For example, eight-eight percent of hosts and news anchors on radio shows that are featured during peak listener hours are White, even on radio shows that are specifically aimed at nonwhite listeners. "The dominance of white, male voices contrasts with public radio's professed mission of inclusiveness, especially when considering the diversity of the metropolitan areas the stations serve." (Creely) Even more disturbing is that many radio personalities reporting entertainment or news will put on a type of radio Blackface; speaking in a false urban-type accent is common for both White and nonwhite radio personalities. This is supposedly to appeal to the listening needs of the Black community, but many people speculate it is an attempt to keep the races divided. Black listeners of Amos and Andy understood that the dialect and behavior of the characters was unrealistic and outright offensive, while many radio listeners today believe that the news media has become unbiased. Therefore, believing that the successful news reporters on the radio that are using an exaggerated dialect are role models for the ideal Black American, these mannerisms will be adopted by large segments of the population.
More than fifty years after Amos and Andy were removed from television and radio due to pressure from the NAACP and other equal rights organizations. Today, nonwhites have more exposure in the media than ever, and this is presented as a positive change that should lead to tolerance of diversity. Society remains highly segregated in many ways, and a lot of White people do not have regular contact with nonwhites in anything other than a professional setting, and that means that the portrayal of racial and ethnic minorities in the media is extremely important to the way in which others view these groups. One study shows that most White people do sympathize with ethnic minorities that experience discrimination, but the demands for equality that "clutter" our society are found to be tiresome. This means that, since non-minorities are teeter-tottering on the border of pros and cons, the media has a particularly high effect on their perceptions of other ethnicities and racial groups. "Thus, the fact that African-Americans are consistently over represented as criminals on the news and portrayed, in many political stories, as sources of disruption or as 'complaining supplicants,' reinforces stereotypes that blacks are 'takers and a burden on society,' the authors assert. The news media have magnified white-black conflict over affirmative action and, in giving inordinate coverage to Louis Farrakhan, have perpetuated stereotypes about black political leaders being militant and racist themselves." (Entman & Rojecki)
The news media is the primary source for information about public affairs and agenda for most Americans, which means that it is in a place of particular power to influence people to act in certain ways or believe certain things. One way in which the media attacks certain ethnicities and racial groups is through the portrayal of children from that particular population segment. Less than forty percent of American households have children, therefore the media is the way in which most people learn about the state of children in our society as well. "By portraying children, particularly children of color, as perpetrators and victims of crime this frequently, local news fosters an environment where children are seen as constantly in peril." (Gilliam) This leads parents to either become overprotective of their children or to them being overly punishing, of both children of particular races and ethnicities, as well as with children who will interact with ethnic minorities. One recent study found that local news broadcasts were the primary media source of news for eighty-six percent of Americans, and that the portrayal of minority youth is particularly worrisome on these broadcasts. Ethnic and racial minorities among youths are represented a proportionate amount of time on the news, approximately one-third of news stories about children have nonwhite children. More than half of these involve African-American children, while Latino children were on one-third of them; Native American, Asian, and Pacific American children are practically invisible on the news. Disturbingly, African-American and Latino children are more likely than other children to be represented in stories that involve violence. The majority of stories involving Latino children are about murder, and sixty-five percent of news stories about Black children are about murder or weapons.
According to one experienced reporter, "Of course, how well -- or how poorly, if you prefer -- journalists deal with sensitive issues of race, ethnicity and religion depends…