Conversation with Dr. Miya Williams Fayne: Black Press’ role in the digital media

By Jillian Ferre, Susan Hernandez, and Lara Meneses

Dr. Miya Williams Fayne studies the Black Press in the new media age with an emphasis on entertainment and representation of Black Americans. Her respective publications give us an insight on the roles Black Americans have on the media and how she studies them. Dr. Williams Fayne has worked for Jet Magazine and Ebony Magazine, two Black Press publications, which have inspired her to focus on why entertainment content was at a rise. She was inspired to study how the traditional black press differed from the digital black press.

In the age of digital media, we’ve seen a shift in reeling in representation and voicing opinions that resonate to audiences, especially within minority groups.

We talked to Dr. Fayne about the dissertation she had done regarding advocacy in journalism and the digital migration of the Black press. Her two publications, Advocacy Journalism in the 21st century: Rethinking entertainment in digital Black press outlets and The Great Digital Migration: Exploring What Constitutes the Black Press Online, focus on how the Black press has changed in the digital age. She tackles the content of digital Black press outlets and how its created and catering to audiences.

The Digital Migration: Why is the black press so watered down?

We then discussed with Dr. Williams Fayne about another publication of hers titled The Great Digital Migration: Exploring what Constitutes the Black Press Online. One of the first things discussed regarding this article was how black press is often watered down because they are owned by white media companies. BIPOC representation in the media is crucial to creating a more diverse and inclusive community, but there is often a misunderstanding because the audience is unaware of the author or who is writing the article. When conducting interviews with journalists for this portion of her research project, Williams Fayne said that despite the journalists stating that they cared about who was writing the article, it was not going to change the fact if they read it or not. This was a particularly interesting piece of information to be received because it gives insight as to why people consume biased journalism since they are not fully aware of who is behind it and the intentions they may have. This ultimately influences how the message of the articles in the press are received. Understanding the author and their experiences while reading an article gives can give the reader a different perspective of the content within the article because they can read it through the author’s lens as opposed to just their own.  Often, owners of the media companies can control what gets written about, which is a concrete explanation as to why the black press is watered down so much. These white media company owners are influencing their journalists to write about some things but telling them not to write about others. The moral of the story is to consume content that representative and inclusive from an author and company that has good values that are reflected in their content.  

There is no doubt that media outlets can be more effective in making sure that there is more BIPOC representation. Nevertheless, many media companies are only representative of BIPOC for a monetary value. These companies can state that they are inclusive all they want, but if their internal values and structures push this narrative for a monetary benefit, it is counterproductive. Representation in the media and press are important but only if it is being done for the right reasons and truly wanting to make a change. A lot of the changes we are seeing now in the media to be more representative may not be long term because of the fact they are driven by monetary value. Dr. Williams Fayne advises that if we stop consuming content that is being representative for the wrong reasons, we will likely start to seem some permanent changes in these companies. Many people have yet to take this step, so rather than complaining and simply advocating for more representation, audiences should adjust their focus to prioritizing only consuming content that is diverse and inclusive for the proper reasons.

Matthew Guay | Unsplash 2016

Advocacy journalism: The blurred lines between hard advocacy and soft advocacy

Advocacy journalism, which includes hard and soft advocacy, is studied in Dr. Miya William Fayne’s publication Advocacy journalism in the 21st century: Rethinking entertainment in digital Black press outlets. As mainstream media has historically excluded African American stories, Dr. Williams Fayne interviews a variety of people and focus groups to study how they perceive advocacy journalism. For one, hard advocacy involves crime and political content like the coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement. While soft advocacy involves lifestyle or entertainment content. The Black Press distinguishes itself from mainstream media as they cater to Black Americans who are either excluded or negatively portrayed. Dr. Williams-Fayne discusses how the Black Press incorporates Thematic coverage by writing stories in many ways over a long period of time through in-depth interviews with activists, community members, and government officials who can offer different perspectives. However, this publication covers what consumers value as the most important type of advocacy. Dr. Williams Fayne held four focus groups with 30 participants based off region and age. She found that some believed that all the black press outlets covered and practice soft advocacy. Others believed that the Black Press should primarily focus on sociopolitical content as that’s how they defined advocacy journalism. These people had more traditional ideologies. Lastly, other groups valued soft advocacy more because it represented Black Americans in a positive matter through inclusivity. From a different standpoint, some journalists believed in the balance of entertainment and political coverage as it serves the black community through relevant information. Although entertainment content may be deemed more profitable, hard news should be prioritized. Concluding, the Black Press’ duty is to serve the Black community, as the advocates and consumers are both mispresented in the new age of digital media.

Black Americans are the most misrepresented group; therefore, Black Journalists turn to objectivity as personal bias is important when it comes to Advocacy journalism. Source: Pew Research Center. 2017

Research Methods

Dr. Fayne conducted her research through a series of interviews with Black press journalists. Essentially, she had done data collection for both research topics simultaneously. She found her participants through a snowball sampling, gathering contact information through word of mouth and connecting to other people through the people she had interviewed. In Advocacy Journalism in the 21st century: Rethinking entertainment in digital Black press outlet, she conducted four focus groups with a total of 30 participants. The participants consisted of journalists and consumers of the Black press.

“…I felt like the readers matter on this perspective. I really wanted to include readers in my research because I thought I wasn’t going to get from the journalists.”

– Dr. Fayne

Two groups were based in Los Angeles and Two groups based in Chicago. She focused her research in LA and Chicago to avoid any bias in her research. She separated these groups by age

In The Great Digital Migration: Exploring What Constitutes the Black Press Online, Dr. Fayne utilized the same 30 participants. She focused on hearing from other journalists to hear their perspectives on exploring the Black press within digital media. She interviewed several journalists who came from different regions and publications. She reached out to many journalists from a variety of black media publications. Dr. Fayne asked them questions focusing on what defines the Black press.

Advice from Dr. Williams-Fayne

Dr. Williams-Fayne was kind enough to offer some advice to new researchers as they start their journey and may not know where to begin. Researching can be somewhat intimidating but knowing these tips may make it much easier to navigate a research project in its beginning stages. One of the pieces of advice she emphasized was to the importance of starting early and always allocating for more time than necessary during the data collection portion of the project. Additionally, networking is a huge part of research than can be difficult to navigate as a new researcher. Dr. Williams-Fayne stated that finding any way to connect with those you are interviewing or surveying, such as being alumni from the same groups or having a mutual connection. This increases the chance of getting a valuable response or any response at all.

A clip of the interview with Dr. Fayne. She speaks about her research process and advice to future researchers.