Journalists need a new code of ethics - Technical.ly Delaware

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Jun. 5, 2020 5:56 pm

Journalists need a new code of ethics

Racial bias in the media is harming Black communities. Chandra Pitts is working to upend the current standard.
Chandra Pitts speaking at One Village Alliance’s MLK Day of Service at Delaware Art Museum in 2019.

Chandra Pitts speaking at One Village Alliance's MLK Day of Service at Delaware Art Museum in 2019.

(Photo by Holly Quinn)

Most everything you read in the media is biased in some way. Rarely is bias so clear as it is during times of racial strife.

Often, when people think of bias in the media, they think in terms of politics: This paper is liberal, that one is conservative — but, in either case, the media is racially biased, most often delivering news with a white point of view.

The first way this comes through is by otherization of Black people in the media. If you’ve ever heard someone argue that Wilmington’s “dangerous” reputation should come with an asterisk noting that it’s only in certain “bad” parts that most white people never go to, you’ve heard the rationalization for otherization, which gives people who don’t live in predominantly Black neighborhoods a sense that bad things don’t happen in “good” areas, as long as Black people stay in their place.

This is, of course, extremely damaging to Black communities. There are multiple factors for sure, but the media has the power to shape the narrative, as Huffpost (which does it, too) once exposed:

It’s called the empathy gap, and it’s one of the most insidious — and common — forms of racism.

It could be describing a white criminal as a nice, normal kid and a Black victim as a possible criminal. It could be using a college headshot for a white suspect criminal, then using a mugshot for a Black suspect of the exact same crime.

Even terms like “unarmed Black male” sets a standard that Black males are usually armed, said Chandra Pitts, activist and founder of One Village Alliance in Wilmington, in a conversation with Black founders and nonprofit leaders hosted by Technical.ly Delaware this week. “When you identify a white woman jogging through central park, you just call her a jogger. Why wasn’t Ahmaud Arbery called a jogger? And then they say a father and son — which is humanizing — killed him. The language needs to be checked and there needs to be a written journalistic standard that journalists take an oath to.”

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Journalists need to change the way they tell stories, Pitts said.

“There was a 16-year-old girl killed here in Wilmington a couple of weeks ago and the girl was referred to as a ‘juvenile.’ When we think of the word juvenile, we think of a criminal under the age of 18. This is a little girl, a teenager. If she were a white human being, there’s so many other words that would have been used to describe her horrible death.”

Unfortunately, not all journalists are open to discussing it: “I reached out to the journalist,” Pitts said. “She said, ‘Here’s the definition of a juvenile if you’re not smart enough’ — total disrespect.”

In the wake of last week’s unrest in Wilmington, words have had the power to paint the community in a certain light.

“Sunday morning, words like ‘tragic’ and ‘horrifying’ were used to describe broken windows and broken glass,” said Pitts. “We’ve had an experience in broken lives, broken hearts, broken sprits, broken Black Bodies, all over this nation forever.

“When a platform says protests are wrong or our youth are violent or we’re rioters, we have to change that language because, understand, by Sunday morning at 7 a.m., every political leader from Washington D.C. to Dover, to our county executive to the top officials — Joe Biden, Lisa Blunt-Rochester, Coons, Carney, everyone — was standing on Market Street Mall downtown looking at broken windows in horror. So if we’re honest, what those elected officials proved was that those protesters were able to do what none of us have been able to do, which is get the attention of all of those people and get them to show up in action at the same time.”

Pitts and One Village Alliance are working on a three-point strategy agenda that will include the proposed journalistic standard.

“We need to raise and create journalistic ethics that don’t allow them to call our children evil, our protesters rioters, our victims of violence ‘juveniles,'” she said.

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