MPR Engages in Racial Narrative Project

Linda Miller
Linda Miller, center, facilitates a monthly meeting with the Truth and Transformation project partners. (Jayme Halbritter)

During Linda Miller’s 20 years of working for newspapers, she recognized how the news media has serious issues with racial narratives that prevent them from serving their entire community. Since she joined MPR News in 2008, Miller, director of network journalism and inclusion, has worked to improve this problem.

MPR is part of a new project called Truth and Transformation: Changing Racial Narratives in Media, which has been funded by a $332,000 grant from Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundations through the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation project of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. MPR is one of six organizations working together to conduct a two-day conference in spring 2019 for Minnesota educators and journalists around racial narratives.

MPR’s role in the conference is organizing the steering committee and managing the agenda. The other organizations—KMOJ/89.9 Radio, Pillsbury United Communities, ThreeSixty Journalism at St. Thomas, Hamline University and Minnesota Humanities Center—will collaborate on programming, curriculum, content creation, community outreach and other tasks, according to the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundations.

The Truth and Transformation conference will focus on changing racial narratives in media by helping reporters understand their own ethics and bias. MPR chose to participate in this project because of their mission and vision, according to Miller.  

“If you look at MPR’s mission and vision statement and values, they don’t talk about covering news; they talk about enriching the mind and nourishing the spirit, expanding perspectives and strengthening communities,” she said.

According to Miller, MPR is different from other news outlets because its reporters often live in the communities that they report on. MPR has been around for over 50 years, but to stay relevant, it must work to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population.

“We will not be around in another 50 years if we aren’t changing our mindsets and challenging ourselves and overcoming our bias and becoming more culturally competent,” Miller said.

Helping people understanding their biases is a mission of the Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation program. It’s a “comprehensive, national and community-based process to plan for and bring about transformational and sustainable change, and to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism,” according to the Kellogg Foundation website.

The program has been working on changing communities since 2016 and is currently working on changing narratives with 14 communities in the United States, including St. Paul.

Miller believes that the history of problematic racial narratives resulted from the longstanding effects of white supremacy. These problematic narratives still exist in the media today.

“They may paint them [racial minorities] through a negative light, like overreport on negative stories, or you may also have a situation where they are underrepresented completely in media. There are several examples of that. That is a portion of this project,” she said.

One solution is to have underrepresented groups receive more positive news coverage. In addition, newsrooms that have more diverse staffs that represent the areas they serve are better equipped to address narrative biases and absences.

According to the American Society of News Editors, newsrooms are overwhelmingly white with only 16.6 percent of staff coming from minority backgrounds. Miller and MPR News see this as an issue that needs to be fixed.

“If we are not serving all communities, if we are not challenging our own bias, if we are not doing this, then we actually are not living up to our mission,” Miller said. “We need to represent people accurately and humanely, and we know that we have implicit bias and other things that we need to challenge and so part of it is of just this continuous journey at MPR.”

The spring conference will be held at Hamline University and bring Minnesota journalists, educators and others together to discuss, listen and plan for these changes, Miller said. The conference will be adapted from a curriculum that Minnesota Humanities Center has previously used to train people on absent narratives.

The organizations participating in Truth and Transformation hope for changes once the project is over. The project will build further relations not only within the organizations, but in the community as well. Miller said this will benefit the journalists on both a professional and personal level.

“When you broaden your worldview, you work on yourself personally,” she said. “That is probably the most important journey I had, not just in media.