July 1, 2019
The APM Research Lab, in collaboration with Wilder Research and members of the Truth and Transformation: Changing Racial Narratives in Media partnership (The Minnesota Humanities Center, Minnesota Public Radio, KMOJ, Pillsbury United Communities, ThreeSixty Journalism at the University of St. Thomas, and Hamline University), conducted an online survey of members of Minnesota’s media in January and early February 2019.
The survey of about 250 Minnesota media members—with responses from reporters, editors, producers and more—sketches a fascinating portrait of how media professionals think about race and racial narratives in local media coverage. Survey respondents were asked about their perceptions of portrayals of various racial groups in the Minnesota media, the influence their work has on public perceptions of race, and their exposure to training about racial narratives.
Four out of five media professionals surveyed think news media in Minnesota are doing a “poor” (31%) or “fair” (49%) job of portraying Indigenous people and people of color in local news coverage. An additional 15 percent said “good,” while six percent said “excellent.”
When asked “how much do racial biases among media professionals lead to inaccuracies in news stories?” 31 percent of respondents said “very much” and 63 percent said “sometimes.” Only five percent said “not at all.”
Two-thirds of respondents agreed that “understanding racial bias is necessary to be effective in my job” while another one-quarter said “understanding racial bias helps me to be effective in my job.”
Media professionals were most likely to identify African Americans as over-represented in a negative light in the media (67% of survey respondents said this).
Media professionals were most likely to identify the following groups as fairly represented: Whites (42% agreed with this) and Asian Americans (also 42%). However, Asian Americans were even more likely to be cited as missing or not represented often enough in media (51% agreed with this). American Indians were also named as a racial group commonly missing from media (48% of survey respondents said this).
Regarding Hispanic or Latinx populations, 28 percent of media professionals surveyed felt they are represented fairly, 31 percent felt they are over-represented in a negative light, and 40% felt they are missing (not represented proportionally) in media coverage.
More than 7 in 10 of media professionals surveyed said Indigenous people and people of color are “rarely” or “never” used as subject matter experts for stories that are not explicitly about race and culture.
While 62 percent of respondents said they “often think about race and culture in the context of their work,” only 38 percent say they often speak to their colleagues about these topics.
When asked “How welcoming an environment do you feel your organization is for employees who are Indigenous and people of color?,” 38 percent said “very welcoming,” 52 percent said “somewhat welcoming,” and 10 percent said “not at all welcoming.”
More than half of Minnesota’s media professionals surveyed think that it is “extremely important” for media professionals to receive training on racial bias and similar topics. At the same time, more than half did not receive training about these topics in their formal education or in employer-sponsored trainings.
About the survey and its respondents
Media professionals working in Minnesota were identified from Leadership Media, a contact directory specific to news media, and also invited to participate by media-related professional organizations, word of mouth, and social media. The survey is not scientifically representative, as individuals were not randomly sampled and each self-selected whether to participate. The survey and conference were funded by the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundations.
All told, 246 media professionals answered most of the survey questions. Survey respondents came from a mix of media types (broadcast television, print, digital/online, broadcast radio, community, mainstream, commercial, independent, and nonprofit) and roles within their media organizations. Thirty-six percent of survey respondents identified themselves as a reporter, 23 percent identified as an editor of some sort (including managing, executive, digital, copy, and social media editors), nine percent identified as a type of producer, and additional respondents identified their position as host, publisher, station manager, marketing professional, and trainer, among others.
The survey findings were shared and discussed at the March 2019 Truth and Transformation: Changing Racial Narratives in Media conference. The event aimed to help Minnesota’s media professionals understand the impact of racial narratives, to champion more accurate and complete narratives in news media, and to change systems that inhibit their ability to do so.