Resolving a Critical Methodological Problematic When Studying Race and the Media: A Case Study of an Analysis of the Newspaper Coverage of the Central Park Jogger Story
Natalie P. Byfield, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Abstract: This study deconstructs the “media language” used in the coverage of the Central Park Jogger Story to determine if it is possible to measure for the racial attitudes of the media content makers. In 1989 a white, female investment banker jogging through New York City’s Central Park was raped and a group of six Black and Latino teenage boys were falsely charged and convicted, with some incarcerated for about 10 years.
Sociologists often acknowledge the difficulty of operationalizing the concept race. Operationalizing race in quantitative studies often fails to take into consideration the socially constructed nature of race and consequently reifies the concept. Racial formation theory is fairly unique in that it incorporates social construction by acknowledging the role of the state in constructing race. It accomplishes this by defining race as a structural and representational phenomenon.
This study borrows from Omi and Winant’s bifurcated definition of race. It treats the organizational components of media systems as a structural base that also assigns racial meaning; and it measures representations of race in the text. Data is gathered from a content analysis of a sample of 251 newspaper articles published in The New York Times and the New York Daily News over a period of 14 years. I coded for the words or terms that were indicators of the concept race, among other concepts. I also coded for structural features of the media, e.g. the prominent placement of the articles in general; as well as the prominent placement of particular story subjects.
I found that during the first two-month of coverage when the story’s narrative was being shaped, articles that had high amounts of indicators for race had a statistically significant association with prominent placement, when using the chi square test. I also conduct a qualitative analysis of the race indicators.