Who Am I?
According to the “wheel of identities,” I am an able, nineteen year old, straight, white, middle class male, who descends from Italian immigrants. While these identities describe my outward appearances, and may afford me some privilege, they do not represent my personal experiences.
Some of the most important parts of my identity are not included on the wheel. For instance, I was raised in a small, rural town in the San Bernardino Mountains, where our schools are severely underfunded. A vast majority of media members cannot empathize with this experience.
Feeling “Seen” in Media Representation
Two prominent white males in the media today are Tucker Carlson on Fox and Jake Tapper on CNN. Carlson was raised in La Jolla, California and attended expensive private schools. According to Point2Homes.com, La Jolla has a median household income of $95,991, 71% of the population has a Bachelor’s degree or higher, and its schools are well above average. Tapper’s community was less affluent than Carlson’s; however, he was raised on the East Coast in a suburban community.
In contrast to these two, and many other prominent white men in media, I grew up under quite different circumstances. I was raised in a rural, mountain community in Southern California. In my hometown, Lake Arrowhead, California, the average median household income is $57,078, 33.7% of the population has a Bachelor’s degree or higher, and the school rating is below average.
Underrepresentation of Rural Communities in New Media
Rural communities like mine, which were traditionally served by local print newspapers, are severely underrepresented in the media today, especially with the rise of internet publishing. According to research done by POLITICO, “73% of all internet publishing jobs are concentrated in either the Boston-New York-Washington-Richmond corridor or the West Coast crescent that runs from Seattle to San Diego and on to Phoenix.”
An additional five percent of those jobs are located in the Chicagoland area. This means that just 22% of the remaining internet publishing jobs go to the rest of the country, which includes other major cities such as Dallas, Nashville, Houston, Austin, and more. It is reasonable to assume then, that the rural population is significantly underrepresented in the media, and specifically the internet media.
This trend towards urban communities is expected to continue. Since 1990, print newspaper jobs have declined by over half and they are expected to continue to decline, while internet publishing jobs rapidly replace them.
Rural audiences are also underrepresented based on political ideology. In 2017, Pew Research found that 54 percent of registered voters in rural counties identified as Republican. The most recent data available, from 2013, found that only 7% of journalists identify as Republican. Additionally, the POLITICO piece found that 90 percent of all internet publishing employees live in a county where Hillary Clinton won. This creates essentially two polarized media sources: one for conservatives and one for liberals. It also makes it difficult for many people from rural communities to connect with mainstream online media outlets.
This problem is not unsolvable. Media companies can do more to communicate with and source from rural communities. In Gather, Jay Kosa writes about the benefits of “engaged journalism,” where urban journalists get to know rural community members and build relationships with them. Likewise, news companies can hire reporters with different backgrounds, experiences, and points of view. By doing this, people from rural communities will feel represented too.