Some companies, newspapers particularly, have offered apologies for the roles they played in fomenting riots and violence against people of color. The Tallahassee Democrat, the Charlotte Observer, the Raleigh News & Observer have apologized for printing blatantly false reports. Should more companies do this?

Yes, I think so. We did provide several examples of media companies that have made public apologies for their blatantly erroneous and biased coverage. However, they are still a tiny percentage of the companies that had these practices, and to the degree that every community that was in one sense or another maligned by their local press, they all deserve an apology from these media companies. And I think it’s part of the process of healing, of showing that you’re moving forward for all of these companies to go back into their history and say “what was our role in fomenting racial bias, what was our role in fomenting pogroms or race riots or lynchings in the United States?” And I think that’s a process that every media company needs to go through.

In the last few years, the whole idea of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity has been pushed to the backburner, in some cases completely wiped off media companies’ priority lists. How do we get that back to being something of importance to the people running these companies?

It became a priority in the 1970s as a result of immense racial and political disturbances, race riots, throughout the United States in the sixties. It was only after this period of massive upheaval that the media companies of America recognized that they had played a role in the racial divisions of the past and they needed to rectify their role. So they began in the seventies and eighties a process of greater inclusion. It did succeed in a lot of ways. To some measure it improved the situation, but not dramatically.

But now we’re in a situation, you’re correct, where racial diversity is the last thing that any major media executive in America is thinking about these days. They’ve got all these other problems that they’ve got to deal with to survive in the changing environment. However, the reality is the country continues to become more racially mixed and it will soon be facing the reality that the white population of the country is going to become a minority within a minority. So the reality is that the non-white communities of the United States are going to be the consumers, and sooner or later these companies are going to recognize that it’s not just a question of exploiting this new growing market. It’s also serving this public. It’s also providing the kinds of news and information that this new majority of America needs. And you don’t do it just by putting your least expensive editorial product into these communities to be able to get advertising dollars, but you actually have to serve the community.

Would social media allow communities of color to push these companies to action?

I don’t think so. I think social media is playing an important role. However, unless we get straight what is going to happen with net neutrality and the ability of that information to flow over the Internet in a non-discriminatory fashion, you have the potential to replicate on the Internet the same kinds of inequities that existed in old media. So that’s why my co-author Joseph Torres and I agree that the fundamental issue right now in terms of media policy in America is what happens to government policy on the Internet. And it’s not just net neutrality. It’s the issue of surveillance, and to what degree our companies and government are allowed to surveil everything that people do on the Internet; what are the privacy rights of Americans; and it’s the issue of as the advertising driven model of journalism, professional journalists, disappears, will there will be replacements, or must everyone become a citizen journalist, working for virtually nothing?

Have you found that people, by virtue of the Internet, have become more empowered just by being able to interact through engagement with social media?

Ernest R. Sotomayor is assistant dean for Career Services and Continuing Education at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was previously president of UNITY: Journalists of Color.