Racial and Cultural Diversity in News Media

Objectivity and accuracy are among the most important journalistic values. Consistently, however, Canadian news media has under-represented and stereotyped racialized groups.

One result of this is that long-standing frames of how news is presented are not questioned.[1] For Black Americans, in particular, the frame remains one established in 1965 by Philadelphia’s Eyewitness News: a sensationalist focus on crime and violence that created and perpetuated “negative narratives about neighborhoods that would effectively ‘other’ certain groups based largely on race, class, and zip code [postal code in Canada],” without following up on the impact of stories or delving into the causes of the things they were covering. “Network executives had figured out how to extract news that entertained and attracted viewers with a familiar story line: An endless loop with scenes of dangerous city streets.”[2]

A study completed by The University of Illinois discovered that news media outlets frame stories in ways that perpetuate stereotypes surrounding Black Americans and their families in general. The results revealed that news and opinion media “pathologize black families and idealize White families with respect to poverty and crime.” Out of 800 published stories on mainstream news outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, when poverty was discussed news outlets chose to feature Black families 59 percent of the time, even though in the United States only “27 percent of families living below the poverty line are black.”[3] Similarly, research on news coverage of mass shootings found that stories about White perpetrators were almost twice as likely to be framed in terms of mental illness.[4] As a result, according to media scholar Letrell Crittenden, “the constant stream of urban crime coverage discourage[s] empathy and harm[s] those already vulnerable to whatever crisis has made the news.”[5]

News coverage in Canada, though generally less sensationalist, is presented through a similar frame. A study of crime coverage in Toronto news outlets found that when police officers killed Black men, details were often included that implicitly served to blame the victim (such as referring to them as being “known to police,” even if they were not committing a crime when killed) and language was used that absolved the police of responsibility.[6] Similarly, an analysis of coverage of Black people, the police and race in The Globe and Mail found that while the tone and content of the articles were generally neutral, the framing – which topics were covered – was overwhelmingly about drugs, gangs and gun violence: “it is evident that the Globe and Mail’s frames in news relative to Blacks are constructed to reflect the skin color of urban Blacks in Toronto as indicative of trouble … Indeed, the frames evident in relation to Blacks and the police are overwhelmingly violent; the only potentially positive frame is that of ‘crime reduction,’ though it is indicative of inherent violence in the Black community.”[7]

Framing can also have an impact on how stories relating to a particular racial or ethnic group are covered. For example, coverage of Black Lives Matter protests in the United States was ten times more likely to focus on violent protests than on peaceful demonstrations.[8] This can be a result of broader biases towards “newsworthiness” – a violent protest is inherently more newsworthy than a peaceful one – but the same study also found that stories about Black civil-rights protests were half as likely to mention the protestors’ grievances as stories about protests on other topics.[9] In the same way, news coverage tends to prioritize stories about race rather than including race as an element in stories on broader topics.[10] As a result, many Black Americans feel that coverage of protests reinforces negative stereotypes and erases Black agency.[11]

In the same way that White journalists, editors and producers may not question the ways in which news stories about diverse communities are framed, they may also not scrutinize stories about those communities as closely. An article in the Toronto Sun, for instance, mistakenly claimed that “goats were being slaughtered” in the bathrooms of a hotel used by refugees,[12] while the Journal de Montreal applied the caption “Street gang members, a few days ago, in the city” to a decade-old photo of Black students waiting in line to attend church.[13]

Similarly, journalists may (consciously or unconsciously) use different language when writing about White and racialized subjects. A study of men’s college basketball broadcasts found that sports announcers tend to talk about White players in terms of their intelligence but refer mostly to Black players’ physical qualities and innate talent.[14] Concerns about framing are one of the key reasons why many historically under-represented communities value social media platforms – which users can, to at least some extent, use to curate news for themselves – over traditional news outlets.[15]

When there is a lack of diversity in mainstream media, this not only affects how the news is delivered but also whose voices are heard.[16] One of the Canadian Association of Black Journalists and the Canadian Journalists of Colour’s call to actions for Canadian news media is to “formally consult with racialized communities about news coverage on an ongoing basis.”[17] Anita Li, co-founder of Canadian Journalists of Colour, has said that “a good journalist always consults and stays in touch with their sources, but this needs to be formalized and institutional as part of every news organization’s editorial process – and they need to do this with a diverse intersection of communities.”[18]

Limited resources, as well as a lack of diversity at senior levels in newsrooms, can result in some voices being heard above others. This is particularly true of the police: according to a 2020 study, police determine which criminal cases receive news coverage and which don’t. As one New York journalist interviewed for the study said, “Our policy is, if it doesn’t come from the police, we’re not gonna put it on.”[19] Eric Deggans, a TV critic at NPR, explains that “it’s not just that you have this parade of Black and brown faces being portrayed as criminals. You have this parade of stories that says that whatever law enforcement says happened was the truth of what happened. The only time we contradict that is when it’s a big enough story that we devote actual reporting resources to look into what happened.”[20]

As well as leading to a distorted view of racialized communities in the news, this can also result in those communities losing trust in journalism. Research has found that Black and Asian Twitter communities “criticized and censured news media outlets more often than praising and endorsing them,” though they did engage with mainstream news by sharing and critiquing articles.[21] Among the solutions that researchers have identified to this issue – along with better representation for those communities in the newsroom – is for journalists to make an effort to connect with racialized communities at times other than when there is a “breaking news story.”[22] A lack of regular contact with diverse communities ties into another long standing problem in the Canadian newsroom: outlets that are informing the public about racialized issues are doing so “with stories that are assigned, reported and analyzed by predominantly white editorial staff.”[23]


[1] Baht, V., Mihelj, S.,& Pankov, M. (2009). Television news, narrative conventions and national imagination. Discourse & Communication, 3(1), 57-78.

[2] Jones, L. (2022) “Lights, Camera, Crime : How a Philly-born brand of TV news harmed Black America.” The Philadelphia Inquirer.

[3] Rodgers, N & Robinson, R (2017). How the news media distorts black families. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2017/12/29/a374a268-ea6d-11e7-8a6a-80acf0774e64_story.html

[4] Duxbury, S. W., Frizzell, L. C., & Lindsay, S. L. (2018). Mental illness, the media, and the moral politics of mass violence: The role of race in mass shootings coverage. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 55(6), 766-797.

[5] Jones, L. (2022) “Lights, Camera, Crime : How a Philly-born brand of TV news harmed Black America.” The Philadelphia Inquirer

[6] Allain, M. B. (2019). Racialized victims of police violence and Canadian media: racial victim blaming and absolving the police.

[7] Crichlow, W., & Lauricella, S. (2018). An analysis of anti-Black crime reporting in Toronto: Evidence from news frames and critical race theory. In Media, Crime and Racism (pp. 301-316). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

[8] Kilgo, D. (2021). Media bias delegitimizes Black-rights protesters. Nature, 593(7859), 315-315.

[9] Kilgo, D. (2021). Media bias delegitimizes Black-rights protesters. Nature, 593(7859), 315-315.

[10] Deggans, E. (2020) Eric Deggans on How to Cover Race Without Perpetuating Prejudice. Nieman. Retrieved from  https://nieman.harvard.edu/articles/eric-deggans-on-how-to-cover-race-without-perpetuating-prejudice/

[11] Brown, D. K., Wilner, T., & Masullo, G. M. (2021). “It’s Just Not the Whole Story”: Black Perspectives of Protest Portrayals. Howard Journal of Communications, 1-14.

[12] Daro, I. (2018) “A Fake Online Review Claimed Refugees ‘Slaughtered Goats’ In A Hotel. This Newspaper Helped It Go Viral.” Buzzfeed. Retrieved from  https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ishmaeldaro/sue-ann-levy-toronto-hotel-goat-slaughter-fact-check

[13] Drimonis, T. (2021) “When irresponsible reporting inspires online hate.” Cult MTL. Retrieved from  https://cultmtl.com/2021/03/when-irresponsible-reporting-inspires-online-hate-quebec-media-racism/

[14] Given, K. (2020) “‘Crafty’ Vs. ‘Sneaky’: How Racial Bias in Sports Broadcasting Hurts Everyone.” WBUR. Retrieved from  https://www.wbur.org/onlyagame/2020/06/26/racial-stereotypes-sports-broadcast-bias

[15] Freelon, D., et al. (2018) How Black Twitter and other social media communities interact with mainstream news. Knight Foundation. Retrieved from https://knightfoundation.org/features/twittermedia/

[16] Merrefield, C (2020). Race and the newsroom: What seven research studies say. NiemanLab. Retrieved from https://www.niemanlab.org/2020/07/race-and-the-newsroom-what-seven-research-studies-say/

[17] (2020). Canadian Media Diversity: Calls to Action. J Source: The Canadian Journalism Project. Retrieved from https://j-source.ca/canadian-media-diversity-calls-to-action/

[18] (2020) Canadian Media Fails to Represent - A Multimedia Recap. Simon Fraser University. Retrieved from https://www.sfu.ca/publicsquare/blog/2020/breaking-news-canadian-media-fails-to-represent-a-multimedia-recap.html

[19] Liebler, C. M., Ahmad, W., & Gayle, G. (2020). Not at Risk? News, Gatekeeping, and Missing Teens. Journalism Practice, 1-16.

[20] Deggans, E. (2020) Eric Deggans on How to Cover Race Without Perpetuating Prejudice. Nieman. Retrieved from  https://nieman.harvard.edu/articles/eric-deggans-on-how-to-cover-race-without-perpetuating-prejudice/

[21] Freelon, D., Lopez, L., Clark, M. D., & Jackson, S. J. (2018). How Black Twitter and other social media communities interact with mainstream news.

[22] Kilgo, D. K., Wilner, T., Masullo, G. M., & Bennett, L. K. (2020). News Distrust among Black Americans Is a Fixable Problem. Center for Media Engagement. https://mediaengagement.org/research/news-distrust-among-black-americans.

[23] Szklarski, C (2020). Calls grow for news outlet reporting on systemic racism to address own failures. CTV News. Retrieved from https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/calls-grow-for-news-outlets-reporting-on-systemic-racism-to-address-own-failures-1.5016691

Diversity in Media Toolbox

The Diversity and Media Toolbox is a comprehensive suite of resources that explores issues relating to stereotyping, bias and hate in mainstream media and on the Internet. The program includes professional development tutorials, lesson plans, interactive student modules and background articles.

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