Shaping our Stories

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.

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


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