The exposure of fake news, the deliberate spread of misinformation within the media,  primarily in conjunction with the recent presidential election, causes many to question the reliability of  news coverage. Unfortunately, this concept is not entirely new. It is not that most media sources intentionally lie to the public, but to say that news coverage is not catered to certain audiences, that interviews and phrases are not chosen deliberately, is to overlook key components of news discourse.

The larger problem is that most coverage does not delve deeply enough into the issues, especially in reference to vulnerable populations. The resulting coverage leaves the reader with a quick glimpse into an issue but a dissociation from a larger systematic trend. A Buffalo News article Three lives lost in one year from Burgard High School. Why?, for example, discusses the recent deaths of three Buffalo, New York teenagers: Shaunice Gamblin, Daniel Glover and Kristian Piazza. Responding to the question in the title, the article states:

But there’s little doubt that their deaths underscore a growing concern among district officials, who have in recent months identified violence as a key factor affecting the education of many of their students.

Violence is thus the reason behind the deaths of these youth. Not once does the article allude to the race of the individuals, all people of color, the low economic backgrounds of their families, or the overall trends of African-American deaths on the East Side of Buffalo. Burgard High School is said to reside within a “tough neighborhood”, with a population of predominantly minority and economically disadvantaged kids. Again the answer to the “why?” seems to blame the at-risk population rather than delving into their vulnerabilities.

From the other side of the world, The Times of India, a newspaper owned by India’s largest media and entertainment group, follows a similar trend. The article ‘Gujrat needs 9.78 lakh affordable houses’ refers to the need for affordable housing in the city of Ahmedabad, but fails to mention the populations most affected by housing discrepancies, previous slum development failures, the vastness of slum displacement, or the blatant government corruption. The “why” of this article shares a visible crisis without breaking down the problem or exploring what is needed for a long-term solution.

Excerpt from Times of India article on affordable housing shortage in Ahmedabad (Times of India, 4 March 2017)

Excerpt from Times of India article on affordable housing shortage in Ahmedabad (Times of India, 4 March 2017)

News coverage ideally should represent the world's population and keep people updated and in touch with the all the communities within their city, country, and the world to the greatest extent possible. So why does so much of the news take on this disillusioning form that lacks appropriate coverage of marginalized lives and the deeper context surrounding them? Why do the most vulnerable get the least representation, and why do they rarely have the opportunity to portray their own stories? How does this affect the livelihoods and overall perception of these populations?

In a series of analytical-investigative posts supported by a NY6 Upstate-Global Consortium fellowship, I am seeking to better understand how marginalized populations are covered in news media and how their stories fit into the larger framework of contemporary urbanization. Half of the series will focus on Buffalo, New York, a city of 261,310 found on the Erie Canal, where 38.9% of residents live below the poverty line. A fairly recent increase in the immigrant and refugee population within the region has helped to revive the city’s previously failing economy, but there remains a significant impoverished African American population. Looking at The Buffalo News (the primary newspaper of the Buffalo-Niagara region), the Challenger Community News (Buffalo’s local African American Newspaper), and WBFO (Buffalo’s NPR station), I will focus on the repeated ideological use of words and phrases such as “public school,” “East Side,” and “refugees,” and how such a tactic works to normalize issues regarding racial inequality.

My other focus centers around Ahmedabad, a city with a population of approximately 6.3 million that is found within the state of Gujarat in Western India. Here I rely on the Times of India , Ahmedabad Mirror (a digital offshoot of the Times of India that focuses specifically on Ahmedabad) and DNA: Daily News and Analysis (an English broadsheet daily owned by Diligent Media Corporation, catering towards a youthful,  tech-savvy audience). In Ahmedabad, a mix of discrimination from caste, religion and migration status create the city’s vast invisibilized population. The manifestation of these issues across such large sections of the population allows for a normalization of poverty that overlooks the deeper reasoning behind the impoverishment. These larger issues are thus reduced to the failure of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), the government body responsible for the civic infrastructure and administration of the city.  

For each of these two cities, I looked at 15 articles from each news source. I then coded each article in order to identify key frames (in this case, economic, cultural, and law & order) and better understand the author’s motive/“framework” for the piece. I followed by coding each in order to mark the relative presence or absence of a variety of issues ranging from education to representation of government views to the mention of NGOs and other forms of community support. In both cases, a trend of dehumanizing the vulnerable populations and reinforcing a lack of agency, both on the side of government and of the broader citizenry, emerged.

The next posts will delve deeper into this trend to display what remains absent within the news coverage and why/how such systematic trends remain unacknowledged. The firsts two posts will revolve around Buffalo, looking at the discourse surrounding public schools, refugees and race. The following two posts will focus on Ahmedabad, digging into this overlap of poverty and other marginalized identities through the discussion of the failure of the AMC and slums. The final post will tie the two cases together, exposing the similarities in news coverage from different sides of the world and answering the broader question, what story is being told about these cities and the people who live there?

"Covering the Margins" logo by Alex Soto, Grotezk Designs. Skyline reference images courtesy Daniel Mayer, Wikimedia Commons (Buffalo), and Alex Bowyer, Flickr (Ahmedabad).

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