Panelists discuss battle of bias in mainstream media

Ostrander Auditorium held a discussion of journalist bias among Minnesota State University, Mankato professors during an Event Intersectional Representation in the Media on Tuesday night.

The panelists included Renee Turgeon, Assistant Director of the Women’s Center, Maria Bevacqua, chair of the Department of Gender Studies, Assistant Professor of Mass Media Rachael Hanel, English Literature Professor Danielle Haque, and Megan Heutmaker, the Director for American Indian Affairs.

With their combined interests, passions, and personalities, the panelists tackled journalist bias based on race, class, gender, ability, and sexual orientation. The following questions were addressed to the panel.

Do journalists cover issues for white male Europeans in general and why?

Haque said the media tends to have a larger focus in this area in regards to corporate media, but it also depended on the area.

Turgeon said that the bias of language also revealed the reporter or television’s stance, like if a white man is convicted of a mass shooting, he is allowed more excuses like he has a mental illness or is a lone wolf. In contrast, Turgeon added that when a mass shooting involves someone from another country, he is linked to terrorism and there is a lack of forgiveness or explanation.

Meanwhile, Hanel directed the focus by asking who is running the television and newspaper stations and said it was predominately white male and while more diversity is growing, it is still lacking. Speaking as someone who worked in print for several years, Hanel added that although young students are taught not to have bias, they still opinions and are not robots.

Is there a lack of coverage in regards to the South Dakota Access Pipeline?

Heutmaker, along with the others, responded with a resounding “yes!” and added that this is actually a case where social media can be trusted more than the news outlets. Heutmaker stated that the news tend to overlook the Native Americans who are “generally invisible,” adding that unless the public gets loud on any issue, the media will not give the particular issue any attention.

On that note, the panelists were asked if social media came with a bad side.

Turegeon affirmed that when more than a handful of people basically say the same thing, the accuracy on an issue shows its trustworthiness. Heutmaker added members or other people who were present at Standing Rock posted their live videos, and those reports are rather challenging to fake since it shows the surroundings and people’s actions. However, Haque cautioned on how some people will only network with those with like-minded views so a bias can be stimulated in that way.

Is there a positive when something is covered or not covered, or does it reflect patterns?

Huetmaker said there seems to be phenomena where the white man needs to come and save native person, but also that people in positions of power need to be advocates and have basic understanding of native issues

Bevacqua expressed that if people in privilege would maintain a mindfulness of deference and respect for the sake of all humanity it would be beneficial to all, saying the earth and would be willing to admit their mistakes.

Haque agreed and posed the question to the audience as to how they, as future journalists, would amplify the minority voices?

Turgeon encouraged mass media students to think about using their privilege strategically; in other words, how to use power systems to unsettle the very system they created. For example, she asked students to weigh who they should interview as a voice of authority, like tribe leaders, but validate the other voices within the group. “There is always going to be a balance, not always one right answer,” Turgeon added.

Is it important that your newspaper department is diverse?

Again, the panelists answered with a powerful yes. One asked if any more really needed to be said. After some laughter, Bevacqua gave some serious consideration back to in 1970 when feminists demanded more accurate representation of women in the media since they were outraged that a women’s magazine had a man as editor in chief. However, Bevacqua added, feminists frequently threw reporters off by refusing to speak to men. Bevacqua said that it had not dawned on higher ranking officials before to seek a woman as representative. Furthermore, Bevacqua also pointed out the importance of the effect of protesting.

Hanel stated her opinion that more young people need to go into news business since organizations are lacking a fresh voice and a different perspective. From there, she encouraged any mass media student who feels strongly about certain issues or feel like they aren’t represented or have a voice to should consider journalism. Although not much money is made from journalism, Hanel stated her belief that sometimes the work is worth more and would like to see more young people encouraged in that direction. She mentioned some students sometimes remark that the news is so depressing but that does not mean they should hide from it.

In response to Hanel, Turgeon added that the editor or manager of the newspaper office should also make the atmosphere more appealing so anyone will want to be part of the team.

Hanel agreed: “We need all people to be part of the field who can help and be understanding, open-minded, and make it a comfortable place.”

Hacque added to Turgeon and Hanel’s comments and addressed the work in the perspective of a journalist’s interests and passions, and how nobody should feel pigeon-holed.

The Orlando shooting that happened this past summer was also discussed.

Haque noted how the media transformed coverage after race and religion were revealed; it is often the case that domestic terrorism is an anomaly, a bad apple making bad choice. Rather than providing a cultural religious explanation, the media should illustrate more about individuals making bad choices. The media also erased any reference that the nightclub catered to Asians or the LGBT community.

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