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Subject: AEJ 96 LesterP VC African American pictorial coverage in four papers
From: Elliott Parker <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:AEJMC Conference Papers <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 22 Dec 1996 10:58:41 EST

text/plain (414 lines)

          African American Pictorial Coverage in
          Four U.S. Newspapers
          Paul Martin Lester
          Associate Professor
          Department of Communications
          California State University, Fullerton
          Fullerton, California 92634
          OFFICE: 714.449.5302;  MAIN OFFICE: 714.773.3517;
          FAX: 714.773.2209;  E-MAIL: [log in to unmask] "les";
          WORLD WIDE WEB:
          Randy Miller
          Assistant Professor
          School of Mass Communications
          University of South Florida
          Submitted for Consideration
          to the AEJMC Visual Communication Division
          for the Annual Conference
          Anaheim, California
          August, 1996
          In a study that analyzed more than 40,000 photographs in four U.S.
newspapers, among the findings was that coverage of African Americans had
increased while stereotypical coverage had generally decreased compared with a
similar study of the same newspapers. It is concluded that journalists need to
make continued strides to represent visually all members within a publication's
          African American Pictorial Coverage in
          Four U.S. Newspapers
          Submitted for Consideration
          to the AEJMC Visual Communication Division
          for the Annual Conference
          Anaheim, California
          August, 1996
          One of the recommendations at the conclusion of Lester's content
analysis of pictorial coverage of African Americans in four U.S. newspapers that
covered a time-span from 1937 until 1990 was:
                    Researchers should continue to monitor the
                    coverage of these large newspapers to evaluate continued
                    _ .[1]
          With that challenge in mind, the present study looks at the African
American photo coverage for 1995 for the same newspapers used in the previous
study by Lester.
          Much news involving African Americans has occurred since 1990 to make
one assume that African American coverage has increased from previous yearsDthe
beating of Rodney King, the subsequent trial, and the civil unrest in Los
Angeles, the presidential bid of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the emergence of Gen.
Colin Powell as a national figure in both military and political arenas, the
legal and marital problems of Michael Jackson, the double-murder trial of O.J.
Simpson, and the "Million Man March." But is the coverage better? Or more to the
point, is the coverage less stereotypical?
          Lester and others have shown that although coverage has increased
throughout the years studied, African American content categories typically
cluster around three primary topicsDsports, entertainment, and crime.[2] Such
emphasis maintains the stereotypical assumptions of readers and viewers that the
media often communicate. In the preface to a recently published collection of
essays detailing the media stereotypes of ethnic, gender, age, physical
disabilities, sexual orientation, and job-related categories, Images that Injure
Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media, Everette Dennis of the Freedom Forum Media
Studies Center writes,
                    Stereotypes have come a long way since Walter
                    Lippmann first proffered his formulation of "pictures in our
                    heads."  On the one hand, stereotypes are rather negatively
                    defined as "a conventional, formulaic and oversimplified
                    conception, opinion or image," while on the other they
                    communicate dramatically and well.
                        For visual communicators, whether
                    photographers, videographers, filmmakers, cartoonists, or
                    artists, stereotypes are useful devices because they are
                    understood and make a clear, if unfair and at times hurtful,
                    point.  For cartoonists, such depiction is part of their job
                    description, but for communicators charged with an accurate
                    representation of news and information, even entertainment
                    they can be damaging and dangerous [emphasis added].[3]
          The news media, then, are put on a high standard because of the
journalism mission to portray persons in the community accurately, completely,
and fairly.
          As with the previous study, this research attempts to address five
hypotheses about the African American photo coverage in four newspapers:
                    H1: There will be an overall increase in
                    African American pictorial coverage.
                    H2: There will be similar content category
                    patterns for all seven publications.
                    H3: Stereotypical coverage will decrease
                    H4: Non-stereotypical coverage will increase
                    H5: The four newspapers will show similar
                    African American front page percentages.
          As with the previous study, a content analysis of the pictorial
treatment of African Americans was performed for all Monday to Friday issues for
March, June, September, and December, for 1995, of The New York Times, the
Chicago Tribune, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and the San Francisco
Chronicle. Obviously, the methodology, publications and dates were chosen to
coincide with the previous research.
          Several researchers, including Woodburn, Miller, Blackwood, Stempel
and Sherer, have written that pictorial evidence using content analysis is a
good method for analyzing a publication's record in media stereotyping.[4]
Because readers often obtain their first impressions of a story by noticing the
picture that accompanies it first, photographs are powerful communicative
devices.  As Lester notes in Visual Communication Images With Messages,
                    Because pictures affect a viewer emotionally
                    more than words alone do, pictorial stereotypes often become
                    misinformed perceptions that have the weight of established
                    facts. These pictures can remain in a person's mind
throughout a
          The unit of analysis was the human figure picture. A human figure
photograph is one that has at least one person within the frame of the image.
Still-lives and scenics without people and images that only showed a person's
hands or feet were not included as well as graphic illustrations. Coverage of
foreign persons of African descent was not included. If a newspaper printed
several zones, the metro edition was used. All human figure photographs, then,
were counted, and pictures with African Americans were divided into specific
content categories.
          The subject categories were sports, advertising, human interest,
entertainment, crime, politics, education, social problems, business, high
society, accident, religion, war, health, and science. In addition, coders noted
if African Americans were featured on the front page or cover. The fifteen
categories are defined as:
          Sports. Any sports-related feature or action picture.
          Advertising. Any non-editorial picture used to sell a product or
          Human Interest. A photograph where everyday life activities are
featured that shows no regard to racial considerations. Fashion photography,
weather, and obituaries also fit this category.
          Entertainment. Any celebrity when connected with a performance
featured in a photograph.
          Crime. Any police coverage, the accused, trials, legal personnel, or
victims within a crime-related picture.
          Politics. Any photograph of a politician or political event.
          Education. Any school-related picture.
          Social Problems. Societal issues that affect African Americans
          Business. Pictures that involve money matters and business activities.
          Social News. Any image that details high society including weddings
and anniversaries.
          Accident. Pictures of events either caused by people or natural.
          Religion. A picture that gives details about a religious service,
event, or individual.
          War. Any picture where the violent acts of war are depicted or where
persons prepare for or engage in war-related activities.
          Health. Pictorial coverage related to individual or environmental
health issues.
          Science. Images that detail scientific breakthroughs, information, or
news about a scientist.
          To coincide with the previous studies, the fifteen subject categories
were combined into four main groupsDstereotypical images (sports, entertainment,
and crime), race-blind images (human interest, accident, religion, war, and
science), special interest images (politics, education, social problems,
business, high society, and health), and advertising images. "Race-blind" images
refer to those pictures in which the subject of the photograph happen to be
African American while "special interest" images refer to content that features
African Americans in a meaningful way.
          Each researcher coded approximately half of all the images for this
          Content coders examined 337 issues and found 40,127 human figure
pictures and 6,987 African American images. The analysis yielded mixed results
for the hypotheses (See Table 1):
                    H1: There will be an overall increase in
                    African American pictorial coverage.
          The hypothesis is supported. Every newspaper showed an increase in
African American pictorial coverage with all but the San Francisco Chronicle
exhibiting an increase of over 100 percent.
                    H2: There will be similar content category
                    patterns for all newspapers.
          Mixed results for the hypothesis. For the stereotypical images
category, the Tribune showed a higher percentage compared with the similar
pattern exhibited for the other newspapers. For the race-blind images category,
the Times and the Tribune had similar percentages while the Times-Picayune
exhibited a dramatic increase in the human interest category and the Chronicle
showed a dramatic decrease in human interest pictures. For the special interest
images category, the overall pattern of percentages is similar for the Times,
Tribune, and Chronicle while the Times-Picayune is higher because of its
emphasis on social news. For the advertising images category, there is no
discernible pattern of percentages between the newspapers with the Time-Picayune
being the lowest and the Chronicle being the highest.
                    H3: Stereotypical coverage will decrease
          Mixed results for the hypothesis. Except for the Times which showed a
marginal increase in stereotypical coverage, all the other newspapers exhibited
a marked decrease in such pictorial coverage, with the Chronicle lower than as
much as 14 percentage points.
                    H4: Non-stereotypical coverage will increase
          Mixed results for the hypothesis. Although the Times and the Tribune
percentages remained about the same compared with the previous study, the
Times-Picayune showed a dramatic rise in human interest and social news content
categories. However, the Chronicle exhibited a much lower percentage for human
interest images.
                    H5: The four newspapers will show similar
                    African American front page percentages.
          Mixed results for the hypothesis. The Times and the Chronicle showed a
relatively low percentage of front pages that contained one or more pictures of
African Americans compared with the high percentages of the Tribune and the
          Perhaps not surprising given the increased emphasis on visual
communication in all manner of media, all four newspapers in this study
dramatically increased their overall picture figure and their overall African
American image figure. Consequently, the overall African American picture
percentage for every newspaper is above 11.3 percent, the African American
population percentage for the United States. John Wheatley has noted that
African American percentages should mimic the population figure if one is to
conclude that image selections were not a result of racial selection.[6]
However, Lester points out that:
                    There is no advantage in publishing a larger
                    percentage of African Americans if those images are mostly
                    sports, and entertainment subjects.[7]
          The present study has shown that for most of the newspapers, progress
has been made in reducing the stereotypical images while increasing the
non-stereotypical portrayals of African Americans. However, much work still
needs to be accomplished.
          The New York Times. As the newspaper out of the four most recognized
as a national leader in the field of journalism, it is startling to note the
almost similar pattern in percentages in every subject category compared with
the findings in the previous study. Although the overall percentage of African
American images increased by almost twice as much, the distribution of those
images indicates a strong emphasis on sports with little or no interest in many
of the other categories. The Times also contained the smallest percentage for
front page pictures among the other newspapers. The results of the present study
indicates that this is a national newspaper that must take a hard look whether
it is serving a national audience.
          The Chicago Tribune. With the highest percentage of stereotypical
images of all the other newspapers in the previous study, the Tribune had no
where else to go with this category but lower. Although this study recorded a
dramatic rise in entertainment pictures and a slight increase in crime subject,
there is over a 10-percentage decrease in sports images. The race-blind and
special interest image categories are remarkably similar while advertising
images increased markedly. This is a newspaper, then, that seems to be making
conscious changes in its pictorial coverage.
          The San Francisco Chronicle. This newspaper registered only a slight
increase in the overall African American picture percentage. Compared with the
other newspapers, the small increase coupled with a poor front page percentage
and a dramatic decrease in the percentage of human interest pictures, the result
is apparent. However, the overall stereotypical image percentage, especially
with regards to sports photos, is down while the advertising image category
increased while almost twice as much. This is a newspaper that needs to make
further progress in its reduction of sports coverage while dramatic improvement
needs to be accomplished in most of the other categories.
          The New Orleans Times-Picayune. In many ways, the results of this
study indicate that the Times-Picayune could be a model for other newspapers
around the country. For example, the overall African American pictorial
percentage is 23.7, twice the national figure. Such a result indicates that the
editors at the Times-Picayune, serving in a state with an African American
percentage of 29.4,  at sensitive to the sentiment expressed by Lester in his
previous study when he writes that:
                    Percentages of photographs representing
                    African Americans should reflect the regional populations
                    newspapers serve. A newspaper does not only serve its
readers or
                    advertisers. A newspaper does not only serve its
journalists. A
                    newspaper serves it community. Part of the challenge to
produce a
                    daily document is to make sure that the entire community is
                    servedDregardless of whether some segments of the community
                    subscribes to the newspaper or not.[8]
          Further evidence of this commitment to community journalism is seen in
the low overall stereotypical image category, the high human interest subject
category, and the reasonable percentage totals for the special interest and
advertising images. This newspaper also has the highest front page percentage of
any of the other three. African Americans are visible in the Times-Picayune
without sacrificing stereotypical coverage.
          The tone of the conclusion in the previous study, for which the
present work is a continuation, was a bit disheartening. For although progress
had been made through the years in including African Americans within the pages
of these popular publications, sports, entertainment, and crime were the primary
content categories. The present study indicates that although stereotypical
coverage is still the mainstay of African American pictorial use in these four
newspapers, the general trend shows decreases in such coverage with conversely
increase in other content categories.
          That is not to say that more work needs to be done. The content
category percentages for accident, religion, war, science, and health are
shockingly low with little increases over the percentages shown in the previous
study. Are there really no African American scientists or doctors working in
these four communities? A concentrated effort must be made to show readers that
African Americans provide a wide range of issues and services to the community
apart from those that automatically and stereotypically come to mind.
          It is hoped that by the end of the century when a similar study is
completed, the results that were demonstrated for the Times-Picayune will be
repeated in the other newspapers but with a notable exceptionDthe percentages
for race-blind and special interest image categories will exceed that of the
stereotypical image category. And once that step is accomplished, journalists
will come to understand that community, civic, or public journalism involves
full, fair, and free access to pictorial representation by all cultural
groupsDwhether based on ethnic, gender, physical, sexual, or professional
characteristicsDwithin the pages of a community, civic, or public publication.
            [1]  Paul Martin Lester, "African-American Photo Coverage in Four
U.S. Newspapers, 1937-1990," Journalism Quarterly 71/2 (Summer 1994): 380-394.
            [2]  See Carolyn Martindale, The White Press and Black America (NY:
Greenwood Press, 1986) and Alice Sentman, "Black and White: Disparity in
Coverage by Life Magazine from 1937 to 1972," Journalism Quarterly 60 (Autumn
1983): 501-508.
            [3]  Everette Dennis, "Preface," in Paul Martin Lester (ed.), Images
that Injure Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media (Westport, CT: Praeger
Publishers, 1996), p. ix.
            [4]  See Bert Woodburn, "Reader Interest in Newspaper Pictures,"
Journalism Quarterly 24 (Autumn 1947): 197, Susan Miller, "The Content of News
Photos: Women's and Men's Roles," Journalism Quarterly 52 (Spring 1975): 72, Roy
Blackwood, "The Content of News Photos: Roles Portrayed by Men and Women,"
Journalism Quarterly 60 (Winter 1983): 711, Guido Stempel, "Visibility of Blacks
in News and News-Picture Magazines," Journalism Quarterly 48 (Summer 1971):
337-339, and Michael D. Sherer, "Vietnam War Photos and Public Opinion,"
Journalism Quarterly 66 (Summer 1989): 391-92.
            [5]  Paul Martin Lester, Visual Communication Images With Messages
(Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1995), p. 103.
            [6]  John Wheatley, "The Use of Black Models in Advertising,"
Journal of Marketing Research 8 (August 1971): 391.
            [7]  Lester, "African-American Photo Coverage," 381.
            [8]  Ibid., 393.

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