Perpetuating stereotypes in television news : the influence of interracial contact on content




Free, David Alan

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Previous research indicates stereotypes of minorities are persistent in television news stories. Can personal familiarity with different racial/ethnic groups influence the selection of non-stereotypical news images? Supported by theories of the personal contact hypothesis, framing, priming, schema, and stereotyping, this study hypothesized that student journalists with a high level of personal contact with different races/ethnicities would select non-stereotypical images to help illustrate television news stories focusing on social issues and hypothesized that student journalists with a low level of personal contact would select non-stereotypical images for the same texts when primed to think about facts countering common misconceptions of racial/ethnic stereotypes. Also, will the level of personal contact with different races/ethnicities and the self-identified race of the student journalist influence non-stereotypical image selection? A two-part experiment tested 128 student journalists with an online pre-test measuring the level of personal contact in social activities with different races/ethnicities. Later, a substantive in-person experiment required participants to select from a set of four photographs, the photo that they believed best represented the content of a news story in which race played a possible role. This task was conducted five times with five different news stories and five different sets of photographs. The independent variables were the level of personal contact and whether or not the participant was first primed to think about facts countering common racial/ethnic misconceptions. The dependent variable was the selection of either a non-stereotypical or stereotypical photo. A two-way between-subjects analysis of variance was used. Results showed no significant difference in photo selection attributed to the level of personal contact or to prior priming to think non-stereotypically. There was no significant difference between prior priming and photo selection. Additionally, the race of the participant made no difference in photo selection. While these results are contrary to existing theory, research, pedagogy and intuition. It is worth noting that finding no statistical significance does not necessarily mean that the phenomenon is not happening in reality. Responses to open ended questions within the manipulation tests were qualitatively analyzed and showed that although the 14 participants enrolled in a university liberal arts course were able to recognize the racial stereotypes within the news stories, some chose stereotypical images contrary to their stated criterion for selecting a non-stereotypical image.
Future research should test the hypotheses with subjects from more heterogeneous regions of the country, and recruit professional and student journalists as study participants and compare generational differences in cultural, racial, and ethnic understanding, education, and tolerance.



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