Black Media’s Hits & Misses In Government Shutdown Coverage
By Tracie Powell
Since African Americans are disproportionately represented in public sector jobs — in other words they disproportionately work for the government — allDigitocracy took a cursory check around the Web to see how black news organizations are covering the U.S. government shutdown.
Unfortunately, we didn’t find a whole lot specific to black folks. Of particular interest, however, is the fact that black publications with white owners — bigger budgets and larger staffs — are providing less shutdown coverage specific to their black audiences than smaller, black-owned counterparts that have limited resources. Here’s a sampling of what caught our attention:
In the first week of the government shutdown, theRoot, owned by what-used-to-be the Washington Post Co., takes a passing look at the nearly 300,000 black federal employees (out of 800,000 total) who are among furloughed workers “struggling to figure out what to do without being able to count on the next paycheck.” Written by Breanna Edwards, the story also briefly mentions the disproportionate number of African American children who are being impacted as the shutdown drags on. The longer the shutdown lasts, Edwards writes, the higher the chances are that money will run out for federal programs designed to help them. The website also posted on its Facebook Fan page, asking readers to share their health care stories “in light of the government shutdown” and it linked to a story published in Salon that pontificates on how white rage led to our current state. theRoot has relied on mostly partisan opinion pieces, like this, since the first days of its shutdown coverage.
On HuffPost BlackVoices, atop story links about rapper Kanye West, the sentencing of former Detroit Mayor Kilpatrick and the horrifying details of a teenager who was smothered and whose body was later stuffed with newspapers, is a generic wire story about President Barack Obama’s and Speaker of the House John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) attempt to strike a deal to end the shutdown. HuffPost BlackVoices also published a cartoon that purports to “capture everything that’s wrong with the government shutdown” by artist Kevin Eason. The related links to the government shutdown that are listed on the HuffPost BlackVoices homepage lead to a tongue-in-cheek opinion piece about Obama’s deadly handshake and what appears to be original reporting datelined out of Washington, D.C. about how the government shutdown leaves WIC recipients in North Carolina without baby formula. Not really specific to African Americans, but it is what it is.
thegriot, the African American website owned and operated by MSNBC, does not make it easy for readers to surf through its homepage to find shutdown news, but there is a story or two among the mish-mash of photos, videos and links. The first thing to catch the eye — underneath the editor’s picks about a girl getting catfished into believing she’s dating a rapper and a headline about a baby Beyonce dancer — is a recent opinion piece by David A. Love that examines what congress should be working on instead of shutting down. Gun control, universal Pre-K and immigration reform tops Love’s list. Back to the homepage and scrolling down past the stories about Oprah Winfrey’s yard sale, rape charges being dropped against a former athlete and what LGBT Americans can do for civil rights, is a link to a story that takes conservatives to task for comparing “Obamacare to slavery.” There are also an assortment of straight-news pieces from Washington, D.C. reporter Perry Bacon Jr. on negotiations between Obama and Republicans. Nothing specific to black readers or black federal workers is offered in Bacon’s reports. The stories are there though, it’s just that you have to navigate through so much other stuff to get to them.
Since black women are particularly hit hardest by public sector job loss, I looked closely at publications targeting this demographic. Over at Clutch Magazine.com, owned by media entrepreneur Deanna Sutton, I found an entire page of government-shutdown related posts specific to black readers. The posts ranged from an original exploration of what role the president’s race played in the shutdown to an aggregated news story about a mentally troubled woman who was fatally killed when she tried to break through a barrier to the White House last week. More interesting, the aggregation was based on a piece published, not in a mainstream white publication, but thegriot.com, the African American website owned and operated by MSNBC.
On Essence.com, the premier magazine to target black women now owned by Time Warner, there is nothing about the government shutdown on the homepage. There is, however, plenty of eye-catching links to entertainment stories and gossip. After doing a site search for “government shutdown,” a link to a poll asking readers whether they “feel safer or violated” after learning that the government collects phone records appears at the top of the page. Underneath is a link to another poll asking whether government officials should resign over infidelity. In fairness, there are links to two stories about blacks and government employment, both published in 2009: One asserting that there are not enough blacks in state legislatures and another proclaiming that there are 70,000 “temp government jobs available right now.” Going by Essence, it’s as if the shutdown isn’t even happening.
Ebony, another legacy publication for black readers owned by Johnson Publishing Co., links to multiple aggregations of stories published by other outlets. The aggregations, highly relevant to Ebony’s audience, range from a first-person opinion piece published in The Washington Post about how the Affordable Care Act saved one woman’s family to a news item published on Salon.com about President Obama’s meeting with demanding Republicans. There’s also a news aggregation from Gawker pitching the Affordable Care Act application as being easier to navigate, despite website glitches, than signing up for health insurance “the old way.”
True to its mission, Black Enterprise, which has provided black Americans with essential business and financial news since 1970, has a story about how the government shutdown is hurting black contractors and entrepreneurs featured on its front-facing homepage. A site search yields another insightful piece on “Help For Small Businesses Struggling With Obamacare” as well as a short piece from a week ago about how congress failed to avoid the shutdown. Black Enterprise was founded, and is still owned, by Earl G. Graves Sr.
This isn’t a listing of all black publications that are on the Web, only a few of the most popular sites that target African Americans. If you know of a publication that should be included in this list, or want to spotlight outstanding shutdown coverage specific to black audiences that I’ve missed, then please add your thoughts in the comments section. If you’re a black federal employee, we’d also like to hear from you about where you go for news coverage of the current crisis. Let us know below.
Meanwhile, one enterprising black journalist, Terrence Nelson, interviewed federal workers about their forced furlough. Here’s what they had to say: