This study examined representations of families, by race in various types of media and built a theory that suggests that increased exposure to various media may come to shape a person’s worldview in different ways.
To view the original research and data created by Dr. Travis L. Dixon with the Family Story Project, click here.
This study examined representations of families, by race, in national and local news and opinion media coverage— on television, in print and online. The study analyzed relevant stories published or aired in the two-year period of January 1, 2015 – December 31, 2016. Specifically, it investigated the extent to which national and local news and opinion media outlets present distorted representations of Black families and engage in inaccurate and racially biased coverage, both in word and image. The study involved a systematic content analysis of a recent two-year sample of cable and network news shows, national and local newspaper articles, and online opinion site content. The findings of the study indicate that news and opinion media do, in fact, perpetuate inaccurate representations of Black families across several different areas of coverage.
Overall, the findings show that news and opinion media outlets routinely and inaccurately portray Black families as sources of social instability in society and portray white families as sources of social stability in society, irrespective of facts to the contrary.
Several more specific key findings support the overall finding. First, news and opinion media overwhelmingly portray families living in poverty as being Black families rather than White families, contrary to fact. Second, news and opinion media exaggerate the proportion of families receiving welfare who are Black while also wrongly attributing the use of (and need for) government programs to laziness, dependency or dysfunction, contrary to fact. Third, news and opinion media incorrectly depict Black fathers as uninvolved or not present in the lives of their children, inaccurately suggesting that Black fathers abandon their children and that Black mothers make bad decisions about family structures and/or relationships. Fourth, news and opinion media significantly overrepresent the association between Black families and criminality while significantly underrepresenting White families’ association with criminality, distorting the overall picture of crime and those who commit crime.
Across all of these points, the study findings indicate that certain sources (i.e., specific TV networks, TV shows, national newspapers and online news sites) perpetuate these reporting patterns more than others.