Your View: Identifying Race

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COLUMBIA - On more than one occasion, KOMU 8 viewers have asked about the importance of identifying race in a story.

In March, a story was posted on the KOMU 8 website and Facebook page about the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson. Some viewers expressed their opinions about race being included in the story. Katryna Rachel said, "Why does it matter that Darren Wilson was white? The moment people stop saying innocent black teenager and racist white cop then this will stop. The news keeps the racial plot going and innocent police officers that keep us safe are being harmed. The media is the reason this will not go away." Twenty nine viewers "liked" her comment.

Around the same time, KOMU 8 covered a shooting that occured in Boone County. Race was not included in the story and the feedback was similar. Michael Thomas said, "Wait you forgot to tell us what race everyone was. Or does that only matter when it makes a good headline?"

Comments of the media "stirring the pot" by mentioning race has been included in many comments on the KOMU 8 website. The question is, when is it okay, if ever, to include such details?

Wayne Brekhus, MU Associate Professor of Sociology said, "I don't think media is guilty of stirring the pot when it comes to racial issues. I think they are interested in examining different angles of issues, and certainly, race is a prominent feature of social life even if people don't want to think about that, because when you think about that, it implies that racial discrimination and inequalities exist and I think we live in a time now where we're explicitly acknowledging that and that makes people uncomfortable."

KOMU 8 talked to several journalists and professors about the issue and most agreed that it depends on the story.

Cristina Mislan, Assistant Professor of Journalism said, "I don't know if I think the media should and can avoid it. I think if there's a story, for instance about police brutality in Ferguson, well then of course we're going to talk about race, as well as other factors that are going to be involved in that story. So you can't avoid that, nor should you, because the point of the media is to give as much information as possible. So I think if we think of it in those terms, how do we give as much information as possible and what is our purpose. And if we think about what our purpose is, then we can talk about if race is important."

Brekhus said he sees race mentioned more often when the story involves minorities. He said, "Sometimes, it is not mentioned when everybody involved is white. I think then just people are mentioned or the age is mentioned or that it was two men in a bar fight. But often when it's white on white crime, we tend to just call it crime and not really recognize race. In terms of covering things in the same way, if you're going to mention race when it involves minorities, you should mention race when it involves the majority."

KOMU 8's Interactive Director Annie Hammock said, "We typically don't even have discussions about [identifying race] in the newsroom, because it just sort of goes without saying that you wouldn't include race in a story unless race was a key part of that story. And from the beginning, Ferguson was very racialized. From the beginning, the black community was very angry about the shooting and blamed the the relationship between the mostly white police department and the mostly black community."

So what do you think? Should race be included in certain stories? Is the media stirring the pot by doing so?

Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus,  then watch KOMU-8 news at six on Fridays to catch your view of the news.

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