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Media Portrayals of Race in Rochester, NY

The Greater Rochester Community has been struggling with conversations around racial disparities for generations. In recent years, the city of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony has begun to look more directly in the mirror as it confronts issues around race, racial disparity and equity in our community.

Attitudes towards race are formed on the basis of direct (personal interactions) and indirect (word of mouth and media communicated) experiences. A community as segregated as Rochester provides a structural barrier to these direct experiences, and increases the importance and potential impact of media experiences related to race. The argument can be made that here, media representations are even more important than they might otherwise be in shaping how we see our community and those who share it with us.

In late 2015, Causewave Community Partners decided to attempt to make a unique contribution to the issue of racial equality in our community. Given our experiences and connections in the media community, and the well-documented impact of media representations on the racial perceptions of white and non-white groups, we decided to study how race is represented and perceived in local news media.

Shaping our Stories is the result of nearly three years of planning and analysis. It is presented with the intention of increasing the understanding of perceptions of how race is represented in local news media. This report can be used by both community members and news professionals to understand each other’s perceptions and how they differ.

By studying this complex issue and sharing our results, we hope to spark a productive and collaborative dialog and process for positive change in our community.

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Phase 2

Phase 2

The Next Step for Shaping Our Stories


Shaping Our Stories study commissioned by Causewave Community Partners found that majority of news consumers believe that stories about minority groups are primarily negative in news media.

To address some of the findings from the Shaping Our Stories study, specifically how race is represented and perceived in local news media, Causewave developed a set of recommendations for future actions including partnering with nonprofits, for-profit businesses and other groups serving Rochester’s minority communities.

In the next phase, Causewave is pairing public relations coaches to help the groups that are awarded with the tools to develop or enhance their communication plan. By hosting workshops, events, and consultation meetings, we will equip organizational leaders with resources that will teach them how to shape and package their very own positive stories in an effort to earn media opportunities with local news stations.

We are interested in supporting local nonprofits, for-profit businesses and other groups that serve Rochester’s minority communities. Interested groups must complete a very simple application in order to be considered for pro bono public relations services. Preference is made to organizations located in the city of Rochester with limited staff and have small to no budget for public relations services.

Selected participants are expected to participate in several engagement opportunities to explore parts of the study and learn from local professionals in media-related fields. Here’s a list of upcoming events or workshop sessions that applicants are expected to attend:

  • Race and Media Breakfast: September 11, 2019
    Sold out event

  • Race and Media Workshops: October-November 2019
    For selected organizations only

  • Consultations and Mentorship Meet-ups: Up to 4 sessions between October 2019 and January 2020
    For selected organizations only

  • Race and Media Impact Awards and Cultural Showcase: February 2020
    Tickets available Monday, November 18, 2019

By participating in the next phase of the Shaping Our Stories study, your organization will enhance its brand, develop or strengthen current communication goals and employ learned skills to encourage media engagement opportunities with local news organizations.

If you are ready to get started, please complete your application by clicking the link below. You are advised to review all questions before completing the application. All required fields must be completed before exiting the Google form. Submit your answers before Monday, October 14 at 5 PM. Contact with any questions or to learn more.

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The Shaping our Stories report can be found here. For a video presentation of the report, click here

To see what nonprofit organizations, the media, Causewave and you can do, click here.

Causewave invited local media partners to provide a response to Shaping our Stories. Their unedited responses are posted below.

“News10NBC appreciates Causewave’s effort to quantify both the content and perceptions of that content, especially around the intersection of news and race, produced by media in the Greater Rochester area. We are also grateful to the many volunteers who contributed to this major project. At News10NBC, we are committed to doing our best every day to represent all of the people of the communities we serve and all of our stakeholders. Our team members do not waver in the face of this important responsibility. With humility, we embrace it.”

Richard Reingold | Vice President & General Manager, WHEC-TV

“The poll results are sobering and deserve study by all news organizations in Rochester.  There’s a particularly troubling gap in perception between African Americans and local media.  While diversity in staffing and coverage is a long-held core value at the Democrat and Chronicle, we’re taking the results to heart as we plan coverage.  We’ve significantly increased community engagement through major projects such as Unite Rochester and Time to Educate and encourage a more inclusive dialogue about news coverage. We welcome suggestions from the community as we review policies and practices to identify improvements.” 

Karen Magnuson | Executive Editor & Vice President/News, Democrat and Chronicle

Causewave is committed to continuing the conversation, if you would like to stay informed on upcoming events please fill out the form below.

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