Communications and Community
Efforts to introduce "system-reform" initiatives in low-income communities must take into account the powerful influence of mass communications. In particular, important new research shows that news coverage (both print and broadcast) has a profound effect on what issues people believe to be important (agenda-setting); the lens through which they interpret issues (framing); and whether they use this information in making judgments about racial groups, policy preferences, and electoral choices (priming). In short, the news powerfully shapes the ways in which people relate to their communities.
Perhaps the most notable trend in news production is the fact that local television news has become the predominant source of information about public affairs. In almost every major media market the local news airs from 5:30 in the morning until twelve o’clock at night. Additionally, news "teasers" are run virtually all day long to promote various programs. The end result is that the local television news is ubiquitous. While many people still read the daily newspaper, the pace and drama of local telecasts appear to irresistible to viewers.
A growing body of research shows that media-driven stereotypes of poor minorities as "prime suspects", "superpredators", or "welfare queens" have a disturbingly corrosive effect on "public will". Studies show that such portrayals or "scripts" reinforce negative views of minority groups and increase support for harsh, punitive policy remedies. The implication of these results is to create a sense of doom and disaster among a public weary of intervention on behalf of poor, minority communities. There is a growing perception that the problems are hopeless and the solutions are failing.
More troubling is the finding that racial cues in the news may even erode support from constituencies historically committed to progressive social change -- namely, liberals. Racial imagery in the news, therefore, has a direct bearing on rebuilding activities in urban neighborhoods. Such an environment makes it difficult to argue that these neighborhoods are worthy of public (or private) investment.
The challenge for community improvement advocates, we believe,
is to develop media relationships that empower community-based
organizations to effectively interpret news stories, engage
in policy advocacy, and fundamentally alter the shape and
scope of public policy. Likewise, we believe that journalist
benefit from a deeper understanding of the communities they
The Center has four core objectives:
- Build the capacity of community-based organizations to integrate communications concerns into their on-going policy activities.
- Encourage and foster stronger relationships between journalists and community-based organizations.
- Develop and extend a multi-disciplinary research agenda concerning the impact of the news media on public attitudes about a wide range of social issues.
- Build alliances among community stakeholders, neighborhood residents, journalists, policymakers, scholars, and opinion leaders to create vehicles that can move "public will".