Stereotyping in the News

What is a Stereotype?  

                A stereotype is a belief about an individual or group that is based on the belief that everyone in that group will act the same way.  They are harmful because they judge people based on being part of a particular group without taking into account their individual identity (Cisneros, 1984).  It can be embedded in a single word or phrase (i.e. geek or jock).  They can be a combination of words or images, which is easily recognized and understood by people who have the same points of view.  Also, they can be either positive or negative.  For example, saying “black males are good at basketball” is a positive stereotype and “women are bad drivers” is a negative stereotype (Media Awareness Network, 2010). 

                Stereotypes can appear in the media based on the biases of writers, directors, producers, reporters, and editors.  They can also be useful in the media; they provide characters with identities that are easily recognizable to the audience.  When writers, directors, producers, reporters, or editors are faced with deadlines, it is faster and easier to use a stereotype to characterize a person than it is to provide complex characteristics (Media Awareness Network, 2010). 

News Stories

                News stories have particular points of view even though most journalists attempt to be objective and factual when reporting events.  News stories are influenced by the attitudes and backgrounds reporters have.  They can contain biases, which can be deliberate or unintentional depending on the motives of the news gatherers or their sources.  Most reporters are adults who see the world from an adult’s point of view, and they may assume that their audience is composed of adults who share similar views of the world (Media Awareness Network, 2010). 

                Stereotypes can result from tight deadlines because some reporters for daily newspapers or news shows have to research, write and present a story within the span of one working day.  There might not be enough time to present multiple angles of a story.  They might need a story that is quick and convenient that has a pre-packaged image which can be provided by a stereotypical headline (Media Awareness Network, 2010). 

                The news industry is constantly under pressure to attract new audience members.  It is imperative that they produce stories that are compelling, short, and easily understandable to a large audience.  An intricate issue involving people with complex motives can be reduced to “good guys” and “bad guys” via stereotypes (Media Awareness Network, 2010). 

A Distorted View of the World

                The media focus on issues that deal with crime, violence, tragedy, and disaster to attract audiences.  These topics are attention grabbers, but they give people a distorted world-view when people are constantly exposed to these kinds of stories.  When young people appear in the news, it is most likely that the story deals with crime, drugs, violence, or death (Media Awareness Network, 2010).  This might give people the impression that most young people are committing crimes or doing drugs.  It might also give people the impression that most young people are violent (Media Awareness Network, 2010). 

                There have been declines in youth crime; however, the public has been expressing great fear of its young people.  In 1998, youth crime was at its’ lowest point in 25 years.  In 1998 and 1999, there was less than one-in-two-million chance of being killed in a school in America; however, 71% of respondents to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll felt that a school shooting was very likely to occur in their community.  Even though there was a 40% decline in school associated violent deaths between 1998 and 1999, respondents to a USA Today poll were 49% more likely to express fear of their schools in 1999.  A 1996 CBS/New York Times poll, taken before the highly publicized school shootings, showed that 84% of respondents believed juvenile crime was increasing.  A 1996 California poll indicated that those surveyed believed that 60% of juveniles were responsible for most violent crimes.  In reality, youths may have been responsible for only 13% of violent crimes that occurred that year (Dorfman & Schiraldi, 2001). 

The Lesson

                The lesson here is that stereotypes in the news can result from tight deadlines because some reporters for daily newspapers or news shows have to research, write and present a story within the span of one working day.  There might not be enough time to present multiple angles of a story.  They might need a story that is quick and convenient and that has a pre-packaged image, which can be provided by a stereotypical headline.  Stereotypes can result from tight deadlines because some reporters for daily newspapers or news shows have to research, write and present a story within the span of one working day.  There might not be enough time to present multiple angles of a story.

                The media focuses on issues that deal with crime, tragedy, violence and death.  It gives people the impression that certain groups of people are more likely to be involved in crime, tragedy, violence, and death because they are always shown in these new stories.  People may even believe that these types of issues are prevalent in their own community when in reality, it is not true. 

                Instructors should show news stories in class via YouTube.  Students should be asked to watch the news stories and write down any stereotypes they see in the news stories.  The instructors should also have them discuss the stories with the rest of the class and ask them how they feel about them.  Also, the instructors should ask them how this might impact people’s perceptions of reality. 

References

Cisneros, S. (1984). Breaking down stereotypes.

                The House on Mango Street.

 Dorfman, L., Schiraldi, V. (2001).  Off balance: youth, race & crime in the news.

                Building blocks for youth report. 

Media Awareness Network, 2010).   Media Literacy

                Ed Select.

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