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NU Panel Discusses Social Media's Impact on Race and Journalism

Feb 28, 2023
three panelists have a conversation on stage

Panelists discussed the role of social media in shaping digital and national narratives surrounding race during Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications’ February event.

The audience heard from panelists Danielle Cadet (Medill ’10, ’11), executive editor at Essence Magazine, and Marcus Collins, chief strategy officer at Wieden+Kennedy New York. Both engaged in a conversation with IMC Professional Program Director Danielle Robinson Bell about accountability and representation in media.

Cadet said the emergence of social media platforms offers people of color the opportunity to take control of their own narratives. People from marginalized communities can take ownership of their stories by hitting the “tweet” button—like someone tweeting about a bad airline experience, she said.

“The revolution may be televised, but it’ll also be tweeted,” Cadet said.

She added that people from marginalized communities have the power to use technology to highlight underlying issues that those not in marginalized communities may not be aware of.

Collins, who is also a University of Michigan professor, said regardless of which platform it takes place on, storytelling contributes to legitimation, or the social process of sorting what trends are in versus out.

He said, for example, visible tattoos were taboo 20 years ago but are socially acceptable today.

“We legitimize through the folklore that we tell from person to person, the things that we hear, the things that we say through all the different media vehicles at our disposal,” Collins said.

As an editor, Cadet said she utilizes social media, especially Black Twitter, to see what different communities are discussing and what stories aren’t being told. Cadet also said she believes it is important to tell stories of marginalized communities that aren’t related to calendar-associated recognitions.

“I feel really strongly about the fact that we just don’t box those things into Black History Month and Pride (Month) and Hispanic Heritage Month,” Cadet said. “We can tell these stories every day.”

Collins added that empathizing and considering different perspectives makes for more thoughtful journalism. Acknowledging that some people view topics differently is key in instances when the media must hold itself accountable for mistakes, he said.

Storytellers have a responsibility to be conscious of the content they produce and its impact on people who hold very different perspectives from one another, he added.

“For some, a cow is leather, for others a deity, and for some it’s dinner,” Collins said.

Rob Brown, director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Outreach, attended the event and said he resonated with the panelists’ understanding of conversations within Black communities and their ability to navigate these conversations from an internal rather than external perspective. Medill hopes to find more ways to bring journalism and marketing in conversation together, he added.

“How can marketers actually support journalists?” Brown said. “And how can journalists support marketers to have better insights and understanding of culture?”