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Racism in Porn industry is newsworthy, so how can science make the cut?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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I saw a tweet for this article this morning, April 3, 2013.  I read the byline and realized that it was an original article written for The Root. It was not a wire story with a link to an article originally published somewhere else (like many of their pieces). No, this was a very well-written and researched article, a commentary on society.  It was written by the Political Correspondent for the outlet.  As I read it, I couldn’t help but feel just a little down because I have yet to read an original piece on STEM or science at The Root. I linked to the story and wondered what might be the best way to engage the decision makers at The Root and kindly request they hire a science/STEM education correspondent to the staff.  My reasoning: if there was a dedicated correspondent to science, technology, engineering, and/or math education and topics, then perhaps that person could write detailed, engaging original pieces at The Root about a variety of news worthy topics, too.  Surely, if racism and porn fits the criteria of

The Root: Black News, Opinion, Politics and Culture
The Root is a daily online magazine that provides thought-provoking commentary on today’s news from a variety of black perspectives.

then surely most anything science-related could earn a spot, too. (I’m being schwmarmy, I know…but the original piece was good and I am not picking on it. Just pointing out that STEM is as news-worthy as this topic and arguably actually informs readers lives in a more-meaningful way.)

A good friend asked me a very important question.

What is your issue with them now? Do you think every magazine should have STEM stuff in it?

Yes, I do. I’ve been going in hard on the Black Press and their mostly lack of STEM coverage. I’m not letting up either.

her follow up

Not every black periodical is the right place for science (or STEM in general). It’s business.

Maybe not ‘every one’ but the ones I’ve been picking on certainly are: The Grio, Ebony Magazine, The Root, The Loop 21, Black Voices, Essence Magazine, Jet Magazine. Here are the reasons why.

1. Each of them are general news outlets that state in their own mission statements that they deliver important news to & about African-American audiences (Essence is a woman’s magazine, the only caveat to that).

About Us ~ The Root
The Root is the leading online source of news and commentary from an African-American perspective. Founded in 2008 under the leadership of Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University, The Root offers a unique take on breaking news, provides solid analysis and presents dynamic multimedia content. The Root raises the profile of black voices in mainstream media and engages anyone interested in black culture around the world.

One of the points I have tried to make is that Black Scientists and Engineers are not among those whose voices are being heard at these outlets. If ‘our own’ press outlets rarely give us the opportunity to speak out on these issues, then how can our profile be raised within and outside of the community? Furthermore, when important issues related to these topics are not a part of the typical news cycle people miss out or may over look some very important information.

2. My contention is that STEM is an important part of the news cycle — equivalent to politics, social events, education. I think the fact (and history) that both editors and audiences – like many of my friends – consider science/STEM as special or exceptional is really where the gulf lies. I’ve heard the same arguments from reporters & editors.

3. These periodicals often report around STEM issues but rarely provide in depth information for readers.

Salute! Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson Goes After Diversity In The Sciences ~The Loop 21

Especially for those that claim to have a social justice component in their journalism, it creates a disconnect to call for readers to act on an issue if they haven’t really had much time or opportunity to engage in it, understand it. Providing routine, quality, accurate science and tech news lays that foundation.

About Us ~ The Loop 21
TheLoop21.com offers insight, resources and opinions on African American issues. Our content serves to advance the debate towards Black economic progress by focusing on finance, politics and culture.

How do we move the conversation forward if this topic is only mentioned occasionally at the news site?  Regular news coverage on this topic – Diversity in the Sciences -and relating it to real people’s everyday lives how we build toward progress and parity.

4. My effort isn’t just about getting the periodicals to publish more STEM it is also about raising awareness among readers – like my friends and family – about the lack of science information in the stories that these outlets already provide. I’m trying to inspire an appetite for STEM in people, primarily because it has been so long overlooked or exceptionalized by Black Press.  I do recognize the economics in media. No one is likely to create a space for science news or hire science journalists if they aren’t getting *enough* demand for it. That’s why I keep calling attention to it, especially when I have the opportunity to point out how resources are being used to report information that isn’t necessarily life informing – like this Racism in Pornography piece.

5. I am trying to galvanize people and bring more critical readers to these outlets which should speak to economics. One of the things that comes up often among my college-educated African-Americans peers  is how little many of us read these publications or how we don’t take them seriously as news providers (any more). That is a very telling and striking truth for editors to own. I think it would be helpful if they heard directly from folks like and let them know that we want serious news. I offer STEM as one of the things I, a consumer, would like to see featured more often. I’m trying to identify others who would agree and ask them to join me in this request.

As someone on Twitter pointed out, a supplier isn’t likely to respond to a new/novel consumer demand if it is going to cost them more than what they will get in return.  If Black Press is taking a page from bigger mainstream media outlets, then they’ll see that science news isn’t profitable. Maybe if we can show them that the cost to hire a science journalist wouldn’t set them back and the added engaging coverage will bring more readers…But this is a hard sell. I know. Science desks are closing down left and right. (But these notes on How to Break into Science Writing are good.)

But I have a crazy dream, as major news outlets are shutting down Science Desks, Ethnic Media Markets will hire those displaced science journalists. I envision really expansive science, health, tech news sections & editors at each of these diverse media market outlets, and more. And from where I am sitting everything about ethnic media market models makes them ideal outlets to produce relevant hard-hitting science, health, and environment news coverage. If Playboy Magazine can win awards for its in-depth & accurate original science articles, I see no valid reason why magazines like Ebony or Essence could not as well.

I’m not asking them to step way outside of the box (yet).  The Root is published by The Slate Group, a Division of the Washington Post Company. Slate is one of the  most scientifically receptive online new sites out there.  They publish detailed, nuanced science and tech stories everyday! The Washington Post is one of the few mainstream outlets that still has a Health & Science Section. TheGrio is a member of NBC News Digital, which has its own dedicated Science Editor.

About ~ TheGrio
TheGrio.com is the first video-centric news community site devoted to providing African Americans with stories and perspectives that appeal to them but are underrepresented in existing national news outlets.

For these news services, I am not asking for a stretch of the model or the brand. I am simply asking for inclusiveness – of STEM content – and pluralism – representing diverse professional profiles to feature.

It has been recommended to me to create a special publication for STEM news for Black Audiences. That’s not off of the table; but the issue of push-pull dynamics keep coming into play. I am deliberately trying to engage Push Sources. It is not an easy feat, and it this even a Black Press issue. It’s happening all over, but I am bringing attention to the issue in order to have a focused conversation about the state of science literacy in the African-American community. I don’t believe that conversation can be had without involving Black Press Outlets.

What say you? Do you think that engaging Ethnic Media Outlets in focused conversations about science-related news coverage makes a difference?

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. jplatt 9:30 pm 04/3/2013

    STEM is also often expanded to STEAM, which includes Arts into the mix. Perhaps that’s a step closer to getting science covered?

    Link to this
  2. 2. AnimatedMarty 5:01 am 04/4/2013

    I think jplatt may have a good point here Dr. Lee. Most media outlets have kept their arts sections as the public will always want to be entertained. Maybe a STEAM emphasis would be an effective foot through an already open door.

    Also glad you included this line in your post…”STEM is as news-worthy as this topic and arguably actually informs readers lives in a more-meaningful way”

    You had me wondering for a second. :)

    Link to this
  3. 3. BlasianBytch 2:04 pm 04/4/2013

    I wonder why that headline and not all of the other non-science related topics set you off? I guess its just logical that before someone seriously think about the adult industry and the many people employed within and effected by it all other more important topics should be exhausted, right?

    I’m all for covering STEM topics in publications that target POC and women but there’s no need to belittle sex workers in the process.

    Link to this
  4. 4. DNLee 11:40 am 04/5/2013

    The STEAM approach is definitely a good idea. I’m all for it. I was hoping to play a good clean offensive strategy before using guerrilla tactics. I would love both strategies and I am a proponent of the Arts, too. It makes me sad that Arts and Sciences have to team up, if you will, in order to stay in the news cycle.

    And I have nothing ill to say about the topic or the coverage of the referenced post. This includes sex workers, BB. The headline didn’t set me off, what got me was that I noticed it was an original piece – a good one, I say.
    Because The Root has a staff correspondent who focuses on race, politics and social issues they were able to deliver this interesting piece. I learned a lot. My only wish is that the organization (and others like it) would find the will (institutional and financial) to hire a STEM education correspondent who could write equally informative, well-researched pieces. Pieces that I argue have a direct & more meaningful impact on people’s lives and the decisions they are likely to make concerning their health, environment, and livelihood.

    Thank you for reading and commenting. I hope you visit again, soon.

    Link to this

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