Health and the Media

Helping reporters do a better job covering health issues for men and boys of color.

In his book Whistling Vivaldi, Columbia University Provost Claude Steele recounts how New York Times editorial writer Brent Staples whistled Vivaldi when he walked down city streets in an attempt to reassure white pedestrians that they had nothing to fear from the tall black male.

Staples’ solution may have been creative but his situation, provoking anxiety in strangers walking by, is one that many black men report experiencing.

Studies suggest that media coverage of boys and men of color plays a role. As content audits have shown, coverage of boys and men of color tends to center around crime, sports and entertainment. Not only does this present a distorted image of this population, it also serves to instill fear in the wider society.

Recognizing that training budgets have suffered in the past few years, the Maynard Institute is launching an online project to help journalists more accurately and fairly cover boys and men of color.

From tips on how to better cover the education beat, to turning an analytic eye on existing coverage, this feature will look at stories from a variety of news organizations, including “mainstream media” ethnic press and bloggers across the political/ideological and racial/ethnic spectrum.

Each link provides an example of a different approach to covering the same issue. We will also talk to a variety of experts who will provide tips on fresh story angles in order to ensure more inclusive coverage that not only better reflects the reality of men and boys of color, but also will allow readers to better understand the structures that are in place that help to define these realities.

Do the Media Help Keep African American Boys in Foster Care? Part II

Bob Butler
March 8, 2011

Matthew Crawford wants to be a police officer. Terrell Williams works two jobs and goes to college. Claude Eakins works as an advocate helping young people in the foster care system.

They all have two things in common: they, too, were once in the foster care system and they believe media reports regarding foster youth made their time in the system and their lives now more difficult.


Do the Media Help Keep African American Boys in Foster Care?

Bob Butler
February 22, 2011

African American children who enter foster care after the age of 5 are much less likely to be adopted than their White peers and the situation is more grim for African American males.

Experts on the foster care system say the media play a role in painting negative stereotypes of African American boys that make the job of placing them in adoptive homes more difficult.


Racial Profiling: Impact Missing in the News

Teresa Puente
February 16, 2011

A recent proliferation of states enacting immigration legislation—some 1,400 bills were introduced in 2010—sparked a flurry of political coverage, much of it noting how politicians backing the measures risked alienating Latino voters. Yet scant attention has been placed on how such laws will impact Latino and immigrant communities, particularly the likely increase in racial and ethnic profiling.


Immigration Reform: Dollars and sense get lost in the press

Lourdes Medrano
February 9, 2011

News coverage of the anti-illegal immigration legislation sweeping the nation has noted business opposition to the crackdown. Yet for the most part, journalists pay less attention to the people and industries that employ undocumented workers and what happens to them when they break these laws.


The Story Behind Truancy

Bob Butler
February 9, 2011

California has a new law to crack down on chronic truancy but scholars and social workers hope when reporters file stories on students – and parents – who break that law, they also look at the reasons behind the unexcused absences, especially in urban neighborhoods.

In her inaugural address, attorney general Kamala Harris noted that last year (2010) 600,000 elementary school students were truant in California.

“That roughly matches the number of people (inmates, probationers, parolees) in the state prison system,” she said.


The Tale of Two School Shootings: Separate and Unequal

Bob Butler
January 24, 2011

Two shootings at or near schools in Los Angeles last week highlight how the media sometimes fail to dig below the surface when a Black male youth is involved.

On Tuesday a 17-year old sophomore was arrested at Gardena High School when a gun he was carrying in his backpack went off, wounding two classmates. The teenager is charged with possessing and discharging a gun in a school zone, both felonies.


Media missed Scott sisters’ big story: Prison sentencing bias

T. Shawn Taylor
January 24, 2011


There’s still time for journalists to go back and report the real tragedy that affected the sisters and others like them

Initial media coverage of the Scott sisters centered on their personal plight and civil rights activists’ long-fought battle to get them released. Most recently, news outlets focused on Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s unusual deal that freed them from serving life sentences in prison on the condition that Gladys donate a kidney to her ailing sister, Jamie.


Jerry Brown's Prison Priorities Hurt California Public Schools

Bob Butler
January 14, 2011

Governor Jerry Brown wants to reduce the California’s $9B prison budget by housing more state inmates in county jails and eliminating the Division of Juvenile Justice, formerly the California Youth Authority.

Reporters covering budget stories should ask if the time has come to re-examine current public policies that have resulted in California spending 6 times more on each prisoner than it does on each K-12 student.

In her inaugural address, Attorney General Kamala Harris said California “must recognize the connection between public safety and public education.”


Jerry Brown’s Budget May Be Bad for Young Boys of Color

Bob Butler
January 7, 2011

As reporters cover the release of Governor Jerry Brown’s budget, they should talk to elementary school principal Hedwig Rucker, who worries about how the spending plan could affect the education of young boys of color.

In his inauguration address on Monday Brown said, “the budget I present next week will be painful, but it will be an honest budget. It is a tough budget for tough times."

After having gone through $18 billion in budget cuts over the last three years and facing the loss of another $2 billion, that pain could be felt sharply at California public schools.


Christmas Shopping Black-Out

Bob Butler
December 21, 2010

As journalists cover stories about last minute Christmas shopping this week they should make an effort to include young Black men, a group that receives more than its fair share of negative coverage.

“Research shows quite clearly that black males are shown disproportionately as criminal defendants or otherwise non-contributing members of society (e.g., hanging around on street corners)”, writes Bob Entman, professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University.