Nitpicking the News Vol. IV: Bridging the Racial Divide


In today's New York Times there is an article called "A Racial Divide is Bridged by Hard Times" about the effect of the economy on Henry County, Ga.  When I read the title, I prepared myself for an interesting and insightful look into the ways the community was coming together and ignoring race.  What I received instead was what appeared to be a rushed, one-sided article which supported previously held conclusions despite evidence to the contrary.

It starts off nicely:
During the housing boom, Henry County, a suburb of Atlanta, had its share of racial tension as more and more blacks joined the tens of thousands of others pouring in, creating a standoffish gap between the newcomers and the county’s oldtimers.
But the recession has begun to erase those differences.
Blacks and whites have encountered one another in increasing numbers recently in the crowded waiting rooms of the welfare office and at the food pantry, where many of both races have ventured for the first time. Struggling black-owned businesses are attracting the attention of white patrons. Neighbors are commiserating across racial lines.
 But then the article goes off course as it proceeds to use infuriating interview excerpts.  The article included this graphic which was perhaps the most telling and propelled my frustration.
I wrote to this email to the writer:
After reading your article about Henry County's closing racial divide as a result of the economy, I'm not only appalled, I'm concerned about your impartiality.  How is it that you have a statement like, “We’re already used to poverty; they’re really not” next to a graphic showing the median black household income at more than $56,000 which as I'm sure you know is more than double what the government considers the poverty line for a family of 4.  Further in your article you have a quote from a man who says, “Where I’m from every friend that I had is a drug dealer, locked up, on drugs or dead.”  How is that relevant?  And furthermore, how did you managed to find these two "stereotypical" blacks in a place where more blacks than whites have college educations?  The most degrading comments are all made by blacks while whites are painted in a more sympathetic swath (which you even allow Taylor to note in the final lines of your piece) -- government workers or patrons of a black-owned business.  These inflammatory comments from African-Americans add nothing to the story and cheapen what you were trying to achieve.  Sure there is one white couple buried in your article facing foreclosure, but by that point the damage has been done.  If you're really trying to show the bridging of a racial divide, this article missed the mark.  Instead it reinforced offensive cultural stereotypes where I would and do expect more from any and every reporter, not least of all one employed by the New York Times.

I'm going to bed as I await her response.

Her response: What about the black business owner at the top of the article?

My response: That business owner said nothing.  She was just there.  That was the perfect opportunity and where your article looked like it would deliver on the promise implied by the title and the opening lines.

What I was really thinking: Are you kidding me?  Here is where you had the opportunity to open a discourse with (an admittedly critical) reader about where you could have removed stereotypes and bias from your article and all you have to offer is a poor facsimile of an excuse.  WHY DID I EVEN BOTHER?!  The woman she speaks of was mentioned in the article and in the photograph at the top but never said a word.


Adei von K said...

hellll naw. That was a HORRIBLE article!!

really 'everyone I know is a drug dealer'??? and 'we're used to poverty'??? OMG, GTFOOHWTBS!!

I'm so glad you wrote the editor (writer (???)). I can't wait for the reply.

Ladynay said...

Post her reply if you get one because your email was on the money!

Southerner in Suomi said...

Ok, I was already pissed off for the half-cocked job NYTimes did, when they sent a clueless reporter to Louisiana to write about natural gas and new-found wealth.

This was absolute FOOLYWANG in every sense and I'm so glad you called this idiot out for a sorry excuse for an article. Another reason why these serious cutbacks and a long-standing lack of diversity have turned journalism into a paltry shell of itself!!

And PLEASE post her reply?

Ladynay said...

What about the one thing at the beginning? Really? That's all she came back with?

I was looking forward to a good thought out response from her. Something along the lines of "I see where you're coming from" or at least defending her article with substance. I'm disappointed.

La said...


I don't even know why I am surprised anymore. There is such a complete lack of objectivity it's absurd. You were right on to send her an email. And I think her "response" MORE than proved she went into writing this "article" half baked.

Moreover, as a native Georgian, I can tell you that most parts of Henry country, white or black, are solidly middle class. With the exception of a neighborhood or 2 that have pretty much already been turned over, there has never really been any "poverty" in Henry County. Not sure where they pulled that black person from, lol. A quick google search coulda turned that up. You need more people NYT

the joy said...

I too agree with you. I am interested to read the article, but seeing that in the face of statistics she still chose to paint this as a "poor black people, let's look down on them." article makes me sad about it. I, for one, am not used to poverty, and I'm sure my black friends would say the same. Way to go telling her about herself. I feel like she didn't even go to Henry cty (just south of where I live, btw.)

Rashan Jamal said...

Wow, she actually responded.. that article was wack. I was getting ready to throw something when you read me the drug dealer quote. WACK!!!

Momisodes said...

That article and the diagram are rather offensive. Good for you for writing her. And what a pathetic reply on her part.

Miss Snarky Pants said...

What a poor excuse for a reporter!

Adei von K said...

was that really her response?? to your WHOLE letter, THAT was her response!??!

that's that BS. is there someone higher up than her?? she is a fool and a disgrace to journalism.

C. Nel said...

Wow. I hate when you have such a solid topic worth exploring and then an article that is honestly underwhelming.

Having anecdotes is key but having anecdotes which properly contexualize things gives a story sooo much.

I applaud you for writing a letter to the editor. As annoying as I sometimes find e-mails sent to the newsrooms, it's time when they're thought provoking and help you step your game up.

Hopefully your letter will strike her at that moment when she's working on her next piece and cause her to get better.

Liz Dwyer said...

Well written response to that idiocy. It reminds me of how our local news can always find the black lady with the rollers in her hair when it comes time for the on-camera interview about anything.

And her response? Such blatant self-defense! It was wack.

Jameil said...

all... i had to make sure i wasn't the only one.

adei... right?!? in 2009 in an ATL suburb, you HAD to find THAT guy and use THAT quote. so WACK!!

v... it might've been the same one. she's atl-based & seems to cover southern regional stories. she's not even white! she's not black but you'd think perhaps she'd have SOME sensitivity. Somebody needs to send her an invite to UNITY.

lady... seriously. that's all she said. I was looking for something much better than that, too. So basically you're everything I thought you were AND LESS based on that article.

La... wiggity wack!! that's the best you could come up with as a response??? That graphic spoke volumes for me! And I know about ATL suburbs anyway. SHE LIVES THERE (ATL-area)!! No excuse for that level of ignorance.

joy... i couldn't believe in a place where blacks have more education than whites she found the poor black people story to write. i've never lived in poverty & neither have any of my closest friends.

rj... she probably wrote me off like, "you can't please everyone." i stopped reading to you & started writing to her when I got to that.

momisodes... the diagram is what really killed her article. completely contradictory. The diagram shows all of the things she ignored in her article. her reply was infuriating.

ms. b... WORD!!

adei... THAT WAS HER RESPONSE!! i seriously do need to take it higher. but her editor shouldn't have allowed this to print like this either.

cnel... seriously. this was downright offensive. if the anecdotes had proven what was essentially her thesis/lead/title this story would've been so much better. i can't imagine my letter will effect any change after that response, but you never know i guess.

liz... can you please stop interviewing these people??? it really is disheartening that the people who are willing to talk are too often the crazy looking & sounding ones. educated black people are loathe to "waste their time" being interviewed. her response was essentially a non-response.