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Watching local and network news reinforces negative stereotypes of African Americans, according to two recent studies published this spring in the Journal of Communications by Travis Dixon, an African American professor at the University of Illinois.

Watching local and network news reinforces negative stereotypes of African Americans, according to two recent studies published this spring in the Journal of Communications by Travis Dixon, an African American professor at the University of Illinois.

“The more local news you watch, the more network news you watch, the more likely you were to hold…stereotypical prejudices of Blacks,” Dixon told the Defender.

A survey of non-student adults, in the study, showed that watching network news made viewers think that African Americans had lower incomes. Additionally, viewing the news caused people to see African Americans as poor and intimidating. It was also associated with higher racism scores, the study found.

Another study showed that the overrepresentation of Blacks as criminals on the news increased the perception that African Americans are violent.

In a study from 2000, Dixon and a colleague surveyed local television news programs in Los Angeles and determined that Blacks and Latinos were more likely than whites to be portrayed as criminals.

Conversely, whites were more likely to be portrayed as defenders. Additionally, in comparison to actual crime statistics from the California Department of Justice, whites and Latinos were underrepresented as criminals, and Blacks were overrepresented on local news.

“What you get in the news are depictions that kind of implicitly, below consciousness, associated Blacks with doing evil in the world,” Dixon said.

“When you see those messages over and over again, it kind of gets into your subconscious and (that) has an influence on your judgment,” he added.

Indeed, one way the news reinforces damaging stereotypes is by covering blue collar crime more often than white collar, Dixon explained. He noted that an audience can better relate to a blue collar crime story because they can ask themselves what they would do in such a situation.

“Poverty has a bigger influence in the Black community than it should, (so) Blacks are well represented as blue collar criminals,” he said. “To cover white collar crimes is expensive and politically risky. You have to do investigative reporting, access files and get people to be sources for you and hope you won’t lose your job,” Dixon added.

Though Dixon’s data for his recent studies came from Los Angeles, the professor said that replication of the study in Chicago would garner similar results.

The UCLA alum explained that when network news frames an issue, it helps to reinforce negative stereotypes of Blacks. Using a hypothetical situation, Dixon said that a program would first talk about poverty on the national scale and then show an example of poverty, or frame the issue.

In framing the issue, the show would typically provide an image of a single Black mother, perpetuating the Black “welfare queen” stereotype.

“The news should report the news, but one of the things they should try to do is to think about balance,” Dixon said.

Diversifying images of Blacks on the news could be a way to combat stereotypes, according to Dixon.

“The most powerful way to deal with this issue is to have people exposed to a variety of successful people of color,” he said.

Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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