Negative perception of blacks rises with more news watching, studies say

Watching the news should make you more informed, but it also may be making you more likely to stereotype, says a University of Illinois researcher. In a pair of recently published studies, communication professor Travis Dixon found that the more people watched either local or network news, the more likely they were to draw on negative stereotypes about blacks.

Significantly, the effect was independent of viewers' existing racial attitudes, Dixon said. "We've shown that just watching the news – just news consumption alone – has an impact on one's stereotypical conceptions," he said.

In other words, even among those who may think of themselves as largely prejudice-free, those who watch more local or network news are prone to more often see blacks as intimidating, violent or poor, Dixon said.

The studies were published in successive March and June issues of the Journal of Communication. Each was based on data collected in a telephone survey of 506 Los Angeles County residents conducted from November 2002 through January 2003.

In related research, Dixon also is working on studies about stereotyping in the news coverage of Hurricane Katrina and of terrorism.

The study on local news, published in the March issue, built on prior research in several cities – Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles among them – showing local TV news, particularly crime news, as almost always "racialized" in its portrayal of blacks and often other groups, Dixon said. One of the Los Angeles studies, conducted in the mid- to late 1990s, was led by Dixon, and analyzed the news content of individual stations.

In all of the analyses, Dixon said, blacks are overrepresented as perpetrators, whites are overrepresented as victims, and black-on-white crime is overrepresented relative to crime within racial groups. The overrepresentation is relative to police department crime statistics, not population.

"All of these things are inconsistent with what's really happening out there in the quote-unquote real world," Dixon said. "Some news reporters will say they're holding up this mirror (to the real world), but it's a distorted mirror."

Dixon, therefore, said he was not surprised by his findings that those in Los Angeles who watched more local news were more likely to draw on negative stereotypes about blacks. He even found that those who watched the stations that most overrepresented blacks as perpetrators, based on his earlier analysis, were more likely to use or believe those stereotypes.

(Dixon noted that though his analysis of local news content was a decade old, he had seen little evidence of significant change in the way those stations cover the news.)

Dixon is careful not to label either reporters or news consumers as inherently or overtly prejudiced or racist. Instead, he talks about how stereotypes get repeated and therefore reinforced in the mind, a process called "chronic activation." Those stereotypes then come more-readily to mind, consciously or unconsciously, when seeing or interacting with a member of that group, a process called "chronic accessibility."

Through much local television news, "we keep seeing these black perpetrators all the time, so that becomes more accessible and not other conceptions," Dixon said. As a result, any black male is more likely to be seen as potentially violent or a criminal, he said.

What did surprise Dixon, however, was seeing that network news broadcasts, not heavy on crime coverage, had a similar effect on viewers and their tendency to "access" stereotypes. The findings, which he found "disconcerting," contradicted his assumption that those who stayed well-informed through network news would be less prejudiced and hold fewer stereotypes of blacks.

In trying to explain the connection, he believes part of it may be in the way network news often "frames" an issue or topic, such as poverty or welfare, by finding individuals to focus on.

In doing so, they often fall back on stereotypes, he said. "Network news is more subtle, but it's still there."

In his survey, Dixon collected information on a number of factors that could influence stereotypical beliefs other than news-watching – such as gender, age, race, education, political ideology, income, racism, overall television exposure, newspaper exposure, neighborhood diversity and the community's crime rate.

His conclusions about the effect of news-watching came after taking all those factors into account through statistical analysis. "We found that more than a quarter of stereotypical beliefs can be explained just by how much news you watch," he said. If one assumes that respondents may suppress their honest feelings, given that the subject involves race, then the effect could be assumed to be even larger, he said.

Researchers often are careful to note that survey results showing strong associations between two factors – in this case, news-watching and stereotypical belief – do not necessarily mean that one causes the other. Dixon suggests that there may be a causal connection here, however, because his survey work builds on previous experiment-based research with college students, in which different groups were tested after watching different versions of news broadcasts.

The prior research "makes us more confident that what's happening here is causal and not just correlational," Dixon said.

"News viewers need to be empowered to know that media effects are real and that they need to be more conscious of the potential effects," Dixon said. "The fact is we still largely live in a segregated society, so our perceptions of other groups largely come through the media," he said.

"Viewers need to take a little bit more of an active role in demanding better coverage and turning off the tube when it's not good."

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Jul 17, 2008
Wish Dixon would provide evidence that news-watching creates stereotypes. Just saying so creates a stereotype of TV news, that they are somehow racist. Perhaps, he should also address the obvious fact that the prisons aren't representative of the population either. Maybe we're all racists and clueless.

Jul 17, 2008
Let me see if I understand. So what you are saying is that watching the news causes people to be more
aware of how blacks commit the majority of crimes, therefore people will stereotype blacks. Are you kidding? Most black crime goes unreported because it shows how their race really is....Violent!!!

Jul 17, 2008
What is this Dixon's area of "expertise"? Victimhood?

"...Dixon said, blacks are overrepresented as perpetrators, whites are overrepresented as victims, and black-on-white crime is overrepresented relative to crime within racial groups."

This is the lunacy (and indeed, sickness) that is liberalism. Ignore the inconvenient reality because it may be deemed offensive by some pet minority group. "Stereotypes" persist because there is an element of truth to them, particularly where black criminality is concerned.
Department of Justice statistics:
Crime Rates

Blacks are seven times more likely than people of other races to commit mur-
der, and eight times more likely to commit robbery.

When blacks commit crimes of violence, they are nearly three times more likely
than non-blacks to use a gun, and more than twice as likely to use a knife.

Hispanics commit violent crimes at roughly three times the white rate, and
Asians commit violent crimes at about one quarter the white rate.

The single best indicator of violent crime levels in an area is the percentage of
the population that is black and Hispanic.

Interracial Crime

Of the nearly 770,000 violent interracial crimes committed every year involv-
ing blacks and whites, blacks commit 85 percent and whites commit 15 percent.

Blacks commit more violent crime against whites than against blacks. Forty-
five percent of their victims are white, 43 percent are black, and 10 percent are
Hispanic. When whites commit violent crime, only three percent of their victims are

Blacks are an estimated 39 times more likely to commit a violent crime against
a white than vice versa, and 136 times more likely to commit robbery.

Blacks are 2.25 times more likely to commit officially-designated hate crimes
against whites than vice versa.


Only 10 percent of youth gang members are white.

Hispanics are 19 times more likely than whites to be members of youth gangs.
Blacks are 15 times more likely, and Asians are nine times more likely.

Between 1980 and 2003 the US incarceration rate more than tripled, from 139
to 482 per 100,000, and the number of prisoners increased from 320,000 to 1.39

Blacks are seven times more likely to be in prison than whites. Hispanics are
three times more likely.

Jul 17, 2008
Watching network news is damaging to the intellect.

Jul 18, 2008
you know, "ever increasing weather catastrophes caused by global worming" are actually caused by news too

Jul 18, 2008
It is well documented that blacks commit a vastly disproportionate amount of crime. I don't have the actual stats handy, but a good resource is the "Fact" section on

Aug 18, 2008
Statistics or non. Read this: http://www.edchan...ism.html

Aug 22, 2008
Statistics or non. Read this: http://www.edchan...ism.html

"Racism emerged in the 16th century as a result of European expansionism" Ethnic chauvanism didn't exist prior to "whitey" inventing it? Preposterous. But that's the kind of "white guilt" inducing propaganda one would expect from a communist website complete with Soviet era symbols and pictures of Che Guevera.

Sep 08, 2008
It's human nature to be racist. To put patterns and actions together. When you live in an area where the majority of crime is commited by certain people or you yourself have been in a dangerous situation. You adapt to the surroundings to increase your chances of survival. It affects everyone.

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