Journalists don’t get multiculturalism

Journalistic praxis is fucking up multiculturalism. I don’t think it’s intentional, but as with the language they use and the way they frame stories, few journalists think very deeply about what they do. (Which makes me the newsroom’s pain in the arse.)

When reporting crime, we include info – right near the top of the story which makes it Really Important – about the offender’s religion and skin colour if they are Muslim and/or not white. When’s the last time you saw a news report of a rape that mentioned the alleged rapist was Christian, or a white Australian? In fact, when’s the last time you saw someone who was not white and/or Muslim being interviewed about anything other than being not white and/or Muslim?

When it comes to news from countries with large Muslim populations, we only pick up stories about suicide bombs and car bombs, so it’s no wonder those who are “less motivated for effortful cognitive activities” think Islam equals violence. There are bombings in the UK, Russia and Greece but we still pick up other stories from these countries.

In a post last year about plans for a detention centre in the Adelaide Hills, tredlgt made a great point:

And again I will accuse the MSM of not doing their job. One or two or even six whiners in the crowd get the attention. Surely it’s not too hard to find a punter who either does not care if refugees move into the neighbourhood or actively welcomes immigrants… Why is that the one that gets their ugly ideas broadcast?… It is also possible that in the crowd of 500 were people who truly wanted to find out from the officials just what was occurring, not to protest but to actually engage in their society, maybe to even offer assistance. With the fucking media looking for the biggest nut jobs to highlight who would put their hand up to be the reasonable one and if they did would the reporters report? SAD SAD SAD.

(I’ve edited his two comments into one to focus on the bit I want to talk about – sorry tredlgt, I hope you don’t mind – so click on the link above to read it all.)

Australian journalism is based on conflict: the only newsworthy views are the ones that disagree. As tredlgt says, in a crowd of 500 people, journalists will always find the biggest nutjob because that’s what we’re trained to do. Even if only 10 in that crowd disagree, we’ll report that the crowd was angry. When we’re interviewing someone, or taking notes at a conference, or sitting in court, we’re always watching for the aha! moment, for the quote that will be the story. Somewhere along the way, news stories stopped being an accurate report of what happened.

But there’s another problem. In my newsroom, there are about 30 journos. Only two have Asian parents and both have Aussie accents. Everyone lives in the eastern suburbs, lower north shore or inner west of Sydney. It’s not hard to assume that our experience of multiculturalism involves choosing between Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Greek or Turkish restaurants, and going on cheap holidays to south east Asia. (This is, of course, an assumption based on conversations we’ve had and their friends I’ve met.)

Study after study shows that journalists are not like the rest of the population (and sorry, I’m at my coffice so I don’t have any handy). Journalists tend to be white, middle class, tertiary educated, small-l liberal and atheist or agnostic. So it’s no wonder we think the one person at the town meeting shouting anti-immigration bullshit is newsworthy.

7 responses to “Journalists don’t get multiculturalism

  1. A problem with journalistic intentions to present balance (or been seen to present balance which is very different) by displaying both sides of the story is that it is not actually representative or in fact balanced. For example, if out of 500 people, 450 people say no and 50 say yes to an issue both sides get equal column inches making it look like the yes people are greater in number than they are and in fact equal to the no people. 

    • It also leads to what Drew Curtis (founder of fark.com and author of It’s not news, it’s Fark) calls “equal time for nutjobs”. I’ve had to seriously interview someone who believes aliens visit us all the time and present it as a valid viewpoint.

  2. The other problem is channels 9 and 7.

  3. While journalists don’t get multiculturalism and some are so young they have only ever heard howard the toad and the grubs who worshipped him speak about it , after today they have to get it . It’s so bloody uplifting to hear a Minister of Immigration speak of the greatness of multiculturalism .
    murdochs writers will go into meltdown and the more rabid may even experience chest pains .ha ha ha
    The Government is right on this . It is something to be proud of and it is an obvious success .

  4. Pingback: 34th Down Under Feminists’ Carnival | Spilt Milk

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