WWU Professor Carolyn Nielsen’s Book 'Reporting on Race in a Digital Era' Published

A book titled "Reporting on Race in a Digital Era” by Carolyn Nielsen, Western Washington University professor of Journalism, has been published by Palgrave MacMillan.

Nielsen, a professor in Western’s Department of Journalism and a former journalist, analyzed years’ worth of news coverage of contemporary racial inflection points beginning with the election of President Barack Obama, stretching through the birth and growth of the Black Lives Matter movement to the uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri after a white police officer killed Black teen Michael Brown, Jr., and for 15 months until the Department of Justice released its damning report chronicling rampant systemic racism within the Ferguson Police Department.

“My goal with this book was to open conversations around changes in journalism, the influences of technology, and news coverage of racial issues. At a time when we are again having a national conversation about racial violence, this work feels particularly important because journalism plays such a key role in shaping the narrative,” Nielsen said.

This book also foregrounds the voices of journalists of color Nielsen interviewed, including Pulitzer Prize winner Wesley Lowery, to amplify their experiences covering racial issues and to hear their thoughts about how the field can improve.

“I’m thinking a lot about the ways in which Black reporters described the pervasive whiteness of newsroom culture and how it influences whose stories are told and how they are told,” Nielsen said. “This research shows some shifts after Ferguson. For example, news coverage originally mentioned Black Lives Matter only in terms of a chant, but later portrayed it as a powerful political movement. Coverage of police violence against Black people turned from reporting on isolated incidents to more systemic investigations. I believe those shifts in coverage set a foundation for some of the wider conversations now taking place. I want to be clear that although this research finds some shifts, there is a lot of room for improvement.”

Nielsen's work traces journalism's troubled past coverage of racial issues through to the present and challenges those who continue to embrace a norm of objectivity. She shows how emerging, born-digital news organizations are operating with a different set of values that more broadly explore systems of oppression and give voice to those experiencing it. Her work also shows how traditional journalism coverage of racial issues may be changing to embrace those new values.

The concepts in the book, which Nielsen began in 2015, tie strongly to the most pressing issues in the news today: systemic racism, whose stories are told and how they are told, news coverage of Black protest movements, and the power of digital technology to change the narratives.

Nielsen holds a doctorate in Communication from the University of Washington, a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University, and a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.


Editorial Reviews

“An important book that brings to light the changes in American journalism after public pushback to the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Not only does the book provide a history of racially biased news coverage in the USA, but it also offers a service by providing frameworks for journalists to make media representations more accurate and fair. This knowledge is valuable to scholars, professionals and the public.” (Tracy Everbach, professor at Mayborn School of Journalism, University of North Texas, USA)

“Mainstream news coverage of race in America has been stereotypical, inaccurate, unchanging, and defensive for decades. But new journalists, new mindsets, and new technologies are changing this. This important book captures the moments when the shifts began, why they occurred and who led the way, and where we are likely headed.” (David Domke, professor of Communication, University of Washington, USA)

E-Book Access

Those with Western universal login access can access a copy of the book by following the link below.


Friday, June 19, 2020 - 12:43pm