Is the Black Press Reporting on Environmental Issues?

Much of the Black media does not or won’t cover the environment

an #ecoWURD Feature | by David Love

presented by Reality Check on WURD, airs Monday - Thursday, 4-7pm ET, streamed live at WURDradio.com, in Philly on 96.1 FM / 900 AM | #RealityCheck@ellisonreport

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Climate change and environmental issues are impacting the Black community in a disproportionate fashion, a reality which gave birth to the environmental justice movement. Despite the increased importance of environmental issues in Black America — with a heightened level of consciousness on climate issues and African Americans taking a central role in that movement — much of the Black media does not or won’t cover the environment.

In Philadelphia, WURD radio – the only Black talk radio station in the large state of Pennsylvania, and one of a few independently-owned Black talk stations in the nation – launched the ambitious ‘ecoWURD’ project covering the intersection of the environment, race and income. That’s culminated into a series of high-profile public events and heightened conversation on WURD that’s unlike any other Black radio station anywhere. Hence, ecoWURD is one of the more robust Black media efforts known covering environmental justice, climate and pollution issues from an entirely Black perspective.  “I don’t know any other outlet like this, no other Black outlet, putting in this much effort and dedicated resources on environmental issues,” longtime environmental advocate and founder of eco-Diversity Noemi Lujan Perez tells ecoWURD. 

But, even as Philly faces an onslaught of severe air quality, water quality and related public health issues disproportionately hitting Black Philadelphians, it’s still hit or miss. When reaching out to the Philadelphia Tribune, the largest and oldest daily Black newspaper in the country, there was no response to requests for comment. A search online found that over the years, however, the near-daily has had 23 articles on environmental racism, 80 on environmental justice, over 200 on Flint and the Flint water crisis and 758 on climate change. 

Elsewhere, in places like Minneapolis-St. Paul, where there are large Black populations dealing with environmental challenges, the record can be spotty. The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder once devoted more space to environmental matters, but for the state’s leading voice among the Black Press for 85 years, it all comes down to limited resources. 

Black communities nationally are not only very aware of issues related to the environment and climate change (a term that is gradually evolving into “climate crisis”), they are also very concerned.  While a solid half of the American public says they have “personally felt the effects of climate change,” according to an August Economist/YouGov poll, about 56 percent of African American voters claim they have – the highest rate of affirmative response on that question from all demographic groups surveyed.  Nearly 75 percent of Black respondents surveyed expressed that they were either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about climate change, compared to 66 percent of Whites and a similar number of Latinos. And African Americans – at 62 percent response – were the most likely demographic to believe that the “severity” of hotter summers (this past July being the hottest ever recorded) is the direct result of climate change. 

In that same poll, environment (11 percent) also ranks as a top five issue for Black respondents – along with the economy (14 percent), education (11 percent), health care (18 percent) and Social Security (17 percent). 

Still, for a variety of reasons attributed to lack of resources and internal decision-making processes, Black media outlets by-and-large are not covering the environment or related issues in any concerted way. “We do not report much on environmental issues and climate change,” Patreice A. Massey, Managing Editor of the Michigan Chronicle told ecoWURD. “The environmental stories that we have covered have been things like the Flint water crisis. Environmental and climate change issues tend to be complex and we don’t have the resources to cover such issues in a way that would do it justice. Also, our readership engages more with community centered stories with a face.”

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