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Reporting in a Mainstream Social Justice Movement World

4 minute read | Charlene Polite Corley, VP Diverse Insights & Partnerships | May 2021

Three Recommendations for News Organizations

The Black Lives Matter movement is no longer being embraced just by people of color. It has broken through as a collective mission and found allies across gender, ethnicity, and communities of all sizes.

Less than a year ago, George Floyd’s murder catapulted racism from a taboo topic into mainstream discussion. Almost overnight, content creators took to using every channel from podcasts to children’s programming as a platform for dialogue and education on systemic racism. Yet even at the height of the social justice protests, many of us had low expectations that the trial of Derek Chauvin would lead to a guilty verdict, despite the compelling video evidence. We had even lower expectations that the broader community could continue to care about the movement.

Now, 11 months later, we have our answer. 

The social justice movement has rooted itself in our collective social consciousness. Nearly 22.8 million Americans tuned in to live TV and millions more listened via radio to hear the verdict against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with Floyd’s murder. In a time when it is challenging to capture the attention of audiences, this level of attention signals the traction the social justice movement has gained among the American public. Compared to other major televised socio-political or political events, this verdict drew an audience similar to President Joe Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress and was half the size as the largest political event, the 2020 U.S. presidential election night.

Nielsen’s News Horizontal team, which provides news-related insights using solutions across Nielsen, showed that the pursuit of justice interested a cross-sectional group of viewers, not just Black and Hispanic households. An analysis of radio listenership, from the very ethnically diverse New York to the more homogenous Salt Lake City, further illustrates how important this trial and the issues it represented has become to our nation. Across these markets, News formats saw large spikes in listenership during the hours of the verdict reading, that far outweighed any increases in listenership across other listening formats.

While this is a milestone moment, there are many who are still awaiting recognition, equality and justice. We must continue to both talk about and act against the underlying systemic issues we face.

The precedent of accountability set in the case of George Floyd’s murderer must not be a one-off, but unfortunately that is not yet guaranteed. As the trials for the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor approach this May and in February 2022, news organizations will want to consider how the social justice movement has impacted how people want to consume news as well as how the vaccine rollout and re-openings will affect where they want to receive news. 

Here are three recommendations.

Keep it Human

To avoid viewer and listener burnout, news organizations must ensure the stories of victims and those fighting for them are humanizing and not sensationalized for clickbait. Those at the news desk must contextualize and point out bias in policing and prosecution and extend their coverage beyond just these tragedies, to include better representation of Black people as a whole—with their joys, successes and cultural nuances. 

Go Mobile

In addition, on-the-go notifications and conversations will become more important as people begin expanding their travel circles, commuting and spending more time away from home in general. Mobile news apps, social media, podcasts and radio will play a larger role in both notifying the public and continuing the conversations around racial equality. Already, TV and digital news viewers spend 78% of their time consuming digital news solely via news apps.

Continue the Conversation

Podcasts in particular have played an important role in creating a space for common interest groups and discussions in a divisive political environment. Once considered a niche channel it has become over a very short period of time, considerably more diverse and mainstream. During the pandemic, from May to October 2020, there was an 89% surge in listening for new news podcast series among the general population. At the same time, the number of African Americans consuming news podcasts overall more than doubled (+104%) and Hispanic listenership increased by 59%. 

News organizations looking to stay relevant will understand the downshift in sensationalism and trends pointing towards more honest, balanced and humanizing conversations. These organizations will look to diversify their news content, talent, distribution and conversations to fit the new news habits and interests Americans developed during the pandemic.

For more news-specific insights, contact Nielsen’s News Horizontal team.

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