RIT Capstone Explores How Local Newsrooms Can Repair Trust With Communities of Color

ROCHESTER, NY -- Why does local news coverage of communities of color so often focus on the negative and the sensationalistic? What would it take for newsrooms in Rochester to address the mistrust many people of color feel toward the mainstream news media?

These are some of the questions RIT grad student Tymoni Correa-Buntley explores in her May 2021 capstone project "Trust Issues: A Study of the Declining Trust Between BIPOC Communities and Local Mainstream Media."

As part of that project, Correa-Buntley launched a "newsroom toolkit" with best practice recommendations and resources for newsrooms dedicated to repairing relationships with communities of color.

Our reporter Laura Smith recently spoke with Correa-Buntley about the study, and its findings.


Rush transcript:

Tymoni Correa-Buntley: This tool kit was really a passion project of mine even before I become a grad student at RIT. I'd worked in several newsrooms and being often one of the only minority people in the room, it's hard to have to put yourself in these positions where your job is to create news for these "Wendy in Webster" personas who are white middle-aged women living along the lakeshore who come into the city on weekends for festivals. So I had gotten fed up with how we as local news in Rochester recovering were covering the city and

the area's issues. And I wanted to really find ways to fix that. So this toolkit which is part of a larger Capstone project, it includes a bunch of resources and pieces of advice that I've curated doing extensive research over the last six 6 months, looking at what are some trends we're seeing in journalism, what are some studies that are being done that are aimed at repairing trust with people of color and also just looking at the journalism field as a whole. Because we're seeing the Trump era brought the rise of "fake news" and everyone looks at news critically so I wanted to find ways to outline for newsrooms, here's what you're doing wrong and here are some key things that you can do to fix that.

Laura Smith: And so you mentioned that this to tool kit comes from your Capstone project. What is that project?

TCB: So for my capstone I wanted to study what are some big reasons why people of color don't trust local news stations. And so I did about 10 informational interviews with local journalists, photojournalist, activists, and just varied community members who are part of advocacy groups here and what I tried to do was identify some of those trends and themes that are come up in multiple informational interviews. So some of those included the lack of moderation in social media comments on stories and how those areas can become breeding grounds for hate, and the lack of transparency about how stories are being selected and why news organizations prioritize some stories over others, the lack of diversity on staff, lack of context when telling stories. And when I created this project under the specific lens of the Black Lives Matter movement, I wanted to see how that movement really affected the coverage that people of color in Rochester had had. And a lot of people identified this issue of hyper-focus on small issues -- so journalists consistently reporting on graffiti or broken windows and how those stories began to be prioritized over, "what is the movement" "why is it so important" "why are we having thousands of people swarm downtown." And what it showed was journalists were doing fear-based reporting and it was starting to drive a bigger wedge between suburban communities and those in the city.

LS: So as well as a tool kit, what were the other outcomes of the project?

TCB: So for this capstone, a piece of it was not only the toolkit. But I put together a comparative portfolio showing examples of some of those issues participants had identified. And then I'd also a few weeks ago hosted a roundtable discussion bringing together those newsroom leaders and some community members. And what I found was when newsroom leaders were confronted with my question, "are you committed to doing better and what are some things that you can start doing today to bring change and repair those relationships," those answers were a lot more... I'm trying to find a good way to describe it... they were a lot more excited about trying to repair those relationships than in some previous conversations I'd had in informational interviews. So I think that this project just from the start has gotten news leaders to think critically about the work that they're doing. And just seeing the difference in change-- like, sure, this meeting was recorded and it's something that people can hold against these organizations that participated -- I've had a few newsroom leaders reach out to me directly and say, you know, thank you for highlighting some of these issues, we didn't see these problems and we are going to prioritize it. So I would just, beyond this project, love for community members to look at what types of stores are being put out there about our city, and let's not just accept what they're giving us. Let's hold them to the promises that they made to us that they were going to do better.


TYMONI CORREA-BUNTLEY is a grad student at RIT. Her capstone project "Trust Issues" is available at: http://www.tlcorreabuntley.com/trust-issues-people-the-press