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As National Geographic acknowledges past racist coverage, will other media follow suit?

The sign of The National Geographic Museum & Headquarters is seen December 14, 2017 in Washington, DC.
The sign of The National Geographic Museum & Headquarters is seen December 14, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

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As part of its April issue focusing on race, National Geographic made the bold move to acknowledge past racist coverage.

To explain the magazine’s decision, Editor-in-Chief Susan Goldberg wrote, “we thought we should examine our own history before turning our reportorial gaze to others.” The list of past missteps included a slavery-era slur being used to describe California cotton workers and a 1916 story on Australia with a photo caption that read, “South Australian Blackfellows: These savages rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings.”

While this admittance is unexpected, the content is not surprising given that National Geographic has been around for over 100 years, and they certainly aren’t alone in their offensive past. For instance, the New York Times reported that it retroactively wrote obituaries for women who were initially overlooked, and in 2016, Louisville, Ky.’s The Courier-Journal apologized for continuing to publish Muhammad Ali’s name as Cassius Clay, after the boxer changed his name in 1964.

National Geographic’s move has been trending on social media, and whether or not the response around it has been positive, it’s definitely been a conversation starter. What do you think National Geographic’s acknowledgement of past racist coverage? Do you think it will prompt other media publications to do the same? Are you more apt to read the magazine now, or does this hinder you from supporting it?

With guest host Libby Denkmann.


Hub Brown, associate professor of broadcast and digital journalism and associate dean for Research, Creativity, International Initiatives & Diversity at Syracuse University