In recent years, the United States has seen a resurgence in political activism largely driven by grassroots movements that are reminiscent of the Civil Rights Era, such as the Black Lives Matter movement. From the activism of these groups, topics such as racism and inequality have come to dominate public discourse and unearth some uncomfortable truths. Perhaps one of the most pervasive and prevalent truths is this: Racism is still alive and well in the United States, 50 years after the age of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Era.
The continued existence of racism today is clearly seen in the way mainstream media covers protests that are largely organized by black activists, such as those in the Black Lives Matter movement. For instance, during the Baltimore protests in April 2015, following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, mainstream media coverage followed the narrative that vilified African Americans and twisted them to be violent radicals. In doing so, this type of coverage also failed to give any credence to the issues these activists were bringing forth: police brutality, racism and the continued lack of value placed on black bodies.
Of course, during these protests, mainstream media attempted to remain objective in their reporting. However, this goal of objectivity ultimately failed by stripping credibility away from the protesters and painting them in a negative light. And in the article, “Transparency is the new objectivity” from Joho the Blog, the following quote summarizes the ridiculousness in this continued pursuance of objectivity by the mainstream media: “Anyone who claims objectivity should be willing to back that assertion up by letting us look at sources, disagreements, and the personal assumptions and values supposedly bracketed out of the report.”
This should be applied especially to reporters who cover protests, especially when people of color are involved. Even when mainstream media outlet preach objectivity, this is not the case when protests are covered, as coverage is skewed that paints protesters in a negative, degrading light. This type of reporting remains predicated in certain biases toward people of color, in which many believe them to be violent and rowdy, among other stereotypes. If transparency were valued more than objectivity, the biases and beliefs of these mainstream reporters would be crystal clear.
In times of conflict, protesters should not be delegitimized for rising up and voicing their outrage at institutions and system that clearly work against them. Journalists and outlets should give these protesters the space to share their stories and experiences instead of ignoring their side of the story and exploiting them for news value. In times of protest, activists are the minority rising up against the oppressive majority, yet mainstream media only continues to share the narratives perpetuated by the majority.
This type of reporting ultimately does a disservice to the public by further silencing the voices of those who are continually marginalized, and is not conducive to fulfilling journalism’s duty to the public. Forget objectivity in the face of covering protests —journalism should give a platform to the marginalized and the oppressed, and should offer these people a voice instead of silencing it.