Newhouse alumna changes the way Black stories are covered in one of the most segregated cities in America

Madison Carter ’16 focuses her news coverage on communities that often go overlooked by the media

“In every job I’ve had in this industry, I came in as the only Black woman in the building,” says Madison Carter ’16, graduate of Newhouse’s broadcast and digital journalism program, and anchor and investigative reporter for Buffalo’s WKBW-TV. “It’s lonely, and it’s isolating, and honestly it makes you feel crazy at times.”

Buffalo is one of the most segregated cities in America, according to a U.S. Census Bureau study. Carter says she wants to “show the community, all of the community,” to her viewers.

When the Black Lives Matter protests happened in Buffalo this summer, Carter was vocal about how her station covered the story. She knew that if she didn’t speak up about how Black stories were covered in predominantly white markets, there would be no change.

“I would say more than 70% of the coverage out there, I was disappointed with. Because it wasn’t about explaining to viewers why we’re seeing what we’re seeing,” she says. “A lot of people were out there talking about what they could see, while I as a Black woman was speaking about what I know.”

Madison Carter
Madison Carter ’16

From the start of her career, Carter’s focus has been on telling stories about Black communities and other communities of color.

“What drew me to journalism, after I truly understood what the job was, was the ability to tell stories that sometimes go untold or overlooked,” says Carter. “You just don’t see people of color on TV.”

Carter says that making the shift to include Black stories and perspectives in Buffalo’s news coverage was hard at first.

“I think the challenge was getting news managers to understand that they’re trying their hardest, but they’re not doing enough. They just don’t know enough. They were not informed enough, educated enough,” she says. “It takes an open-minded boss, and you don’t find many of those in this industry. Luckily, my boss was.”

Carter has been outspoken in her newsroom about diversifying the media to properly represent the community it is serving.

“It’s not that you have to put the Black reporter on the Black story,” says Carter. “You should have enough reporters who are educated enough about communities with people that don’t look like them or cultures they didn’t come from.”

Carter had identified the problem but still needed to find a solution; most newsrooms simply don’t have enough staff to properly cover all parts of the community, she says. She decided that if she was going to raise the concern to her boss, she would also have to come with resources and solutions, so she spoke to her managers and co-workers about switching the narrative behind the coverage, and she saw a shift.

“We’ve got to do better than this. You’ve got to leave your newsroom. You’ve got to go into communities with Latino people, with Black people, with Asian people,” she says. Asking questions and seeking experts about topics reporters don’t know anything about is the correct way to educate viewers.

She also knew that if her viewers didn’t care about racism because they felt unaffected by it, she would have to find ways to show them how racism hurts the whole community.

“I have to find a way to convince someone who’s not Black that this matters to them, or that this has an effect on their life.”

One way to do that is by going for their pockets, she says.

“Racism is not free,” says Carter. “It’s showing taxpayers like, ‘You pay this person’s salary who discriminated against all these Black men and women. So if you support racism, keep on paying him.’”

Another method is “quietly normalizing” Black stories, she says. “I want to tell stories about Black people, without them being Black stories exclusive to the Black community. I want to normalize [getting] an expert on childhood trauma [who is] a Black woman with natural hair. So, you just find that normal.”

Subtly but effectively changing the way Buffalo consumes news is how Black stories will make their way into the mainstream media. It’s what Carter calls “infiltrating the system.”

Carter is thankful for her professors at Newhouse for pushing her and her classmates to go outside the Syracuse University bubble and discover the community’s stories. She says it’s important for rising reporters to remember that the community where they live and work is not necessarily the community that they serve.

“[My professors] were educated, and they knew, and they said, ‘Hey, we’re sitting on this private school, this big hill, and this is not Syracuse for real. Like, if you leave here, this community is divided by an interstate,’” she says. “Newhouse prepared me to leave my newsroom, leave the hill, and go out into the community and understand it.”

Adrianne Morales is a senior in the broadcast and digital journalism program at the Newhouse School.