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Survey: Minnesota media pros say industry has a problem with racial bias

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Media professionals in Minnesota say there's a problem with racial bias in news reporting that leads to inaccuracies and a lack of representation of communities of color in news coverage, according to a survey of about 250 reporters, editors, producers and other media professionals.

Minnesota journalists also say they have not received enough training on understanding racial bias.

Nonetheless, a vast majority of the state's media professionals reported they are at least somewhat confident in their ability to accurately reflect the stories of people who are from a different racial or cultural group from their own.

Those are some of the findings from the unscientific online survey conducted by Wilder Research and the APM Research Lab. The results will be discussed at a conference this week on "racial narratives in media" that's a collaboration involving six organizations, including Minnesota Public Radio and other media outlets. It's hosted by Hamline University. Both the conference and survey are funded by the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundations.

The survey found only about 20 percent of respondents believe that Minnesota media outlets do a "good" or "excellent" job of portraying Indigenous people and people of color. Most rate the coverage as "poor" or "fair."

Yet 80 percent are at least "somewhat confident" that they, personally, can accurately reflect the experiences and stories of people from different racial or cultural groups than their own.

"There's kind of this contrast of media professionals thinking they might be doing OK, but overall they don't think the field is doing great, and they're reporting that they and others haven't had much access to training on this topic of racial narratives in the media," said Nicole MartinRogers, senior research manager at Wilder Research.

A majority of media professionals surveyed also believe people of color are not fairly represented by local news media.

More than two-thirds, for example, 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.

Respondents also reported a difference in how various groups of people are treated.

Ninety-five percent said whites are generally represented fairly or in a "positive light," while two-thirds said African-Americans are often presented in a "negative light."

Native Americans and Asian Americans, meanwhile, were seen to be "missing" from news coverage altogether.

More than half of media professionals surveyed think it is "extremely important" to receive training on racial bias and similar topics. At the same time, more than half did not receive that kind of training, either in their education, or on the job. 

Respondents to the survey also reflected on challenges they face covering diverse communities, as well as strategies to employ to do a better job of reflecting people of color in news coverage.

Some media professionals said they had no idea "how to approach a community that I'm not a part of," said Andi Egbert, senior research associate at the APM Research lab.

Others recommended seeking out sources beyond community leaders who are often cited in news reports, and "spending more time in a community, really cultivating relationships, rather than just parachuting in, often when there's been a negative story, and then not being present for much of the rest of the news cycle," Egbert said.

The survey findings can be found here.