And that’s the problem. Legacy media could --- and should --- just stop reporting on issues. It should take the lead in fostering real conversations about important issues in our country, and race relations could be at the top of the list. There are tons of others that are vexing, too, but this country has never really had (at least, in my time), a real sustained conversation about race in America. Instead, legacy media simply reports on events and focuses on the wrong issues. More on that later.
Look at all of the race-related stories of late. Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, is shot dead by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. That leads to days of violent protests, and a stark split in how the populace views the events. Blacks say the shooting raises important issues on race, yet a plurality of whites say it got too much attention, according to Pew Research Center poll.
In a Dayton-Ohio suburb, a black male is shot dead by police while walking through a local Walmart carrying what appears to be a toy gun. Judging from the photos in the local media, the demonstrations on behalf of the John Crawford, the slain man, were attended mostly by blacks; the demonstrations in support of the police, mostly by whites.
And now Levinson, who, in short, said attendance at Atlanta Hawks’ games stinks because southern whites are uncomfortable around blacks. Media has reported the story, what his emails said, the NBA’s self-congratulatory back slapping, and the predictable outrage by those offended by the emails. That reporting is all good, but it leaves open a critical question that deserves reasoned examination --- is Levinson right, and if he is, what does that mean for race in Atlanta? All of the denunciations of his incredibly clumsy and offensive remarks doesn’t change that he could very well be on to something.
Then, there are all of the other race-related issues that we talk about amongst ourselves, but don’t talk about together. Whites who clutch their purses or bags tighter when a young black male draws near, or who cross the street to avoid blacks; or blacks who won’t leave a store without a receipt for fear of being accused of shoplifting, or who duck in a store to avoid balding, tattooed white guys. Those are just a few examples.
The issue of race in America lacks real, prolonged and serious leadership. There is no advantage for any elected official to make this topic a priority. Most whites don’t see race as much of a problem, and if the majority if the electorate doesn’t see something as an issue, why bother?
Well, there’s a big bother. There are plenty of people that want to pretend that the issue of race in America is exaggerated or it’s “better than it has been.” But there are plenty more who understand this is an issue that can cause immense social harm. Ferguson was a societal microcosm that should teach everyone a frightful lesson --- people who feel wronged, and reach a breaking point, will react, loud and angry. If the same had happened in St, Louis, Chicago, or New York, the proportional demonstration and violence would have made Watts look like a teeny, tiny neighborhood dispute.
And where’s the legacy media? It breathlessly covers the story as long as there are ratings to be gained. When the story begins to lose steam, the reporters disappear. It’s not like Michael Brown is any less dead, or that the people in Ferguson feel any less wronged. It’s just that the media has lost most of the interest it had at the height of a truly awful story.
This is not to say this is legacy media’s fault. It is not. Legacy media could use the examination of social issues as the niche it needs to remain relevant in a digital world. It has the reporting and editing expertise and community reach to make a real, lasting difference. What’s it waiting for?
Media can take the lead --- right now --- and lead open and honest conversations about race in communities across the country. And I mean going beyond the superficial, “I don’t like blacks,” or, “I don’t trust whites” polls we see so often. I mean a real look at how racial attitudes impact every aspect of all of our lives.
How does race impact where people live, and the ability for them to easily access city services? What’s race’s effect on the ability to secure a good-paying job with true, equal chances at promotion? What role does race play on Sunday mornings, when countless parishioners flock to churches and worship with people who look just like them?
These are powerful, important issues that need context, and, most importantly, solutions with community input. Some will argue this is the role editorial boards and best played in opinion pages. They would be wrong.
This is the role of the new legacy media, which should embrace leading a community through difficult issues.
Reporting what happens isn’t enough anymore. It’s time to become community activists that provides context and leads to solutions.