TV news directors assess coverage of the black community

Leaders consider value of crime news, access to black activists and other events

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News directors for the city's three major local news networks are considering signing a joint agreement on coverage policies regarding Pittsburgh's black community as part of an effort to add positive messages to the news as an offset to crime coverage.

The idea was forwarded by WPXI-TV news director Mike Goldrick at the latest Black Political Empowerment Project summit on media portrayal of violence. More than 30 media and black leaders attended the summit Wednesday at the Channel 11 studios in Summer Hill to discuss -- and oftentimes vent -- about how the city's black community is covered by television, newspapers and radio.

"If the only information about black people is what's in the news, there's a reason why unemployment rate is astronomic and why we have all these negative issues -- because the imaging of black people is extremely negative," said BPEP president Tim Stevens. "Not only does it affect the viewpoint of white people with their thoughts on black people, I say it affects the psychology of black people."

Many attendees complained the main coverage of black Pittsburghers was at murder scenes or courthouses. "I'm tired of turning on the news and seeing a sister with her hair all over the place, five teeth missing and looking like she just stepped out of the bedroom. That's not something I want to see every time an African-American is interviewed on the news," one BPEP activist said.

News officials countered that they go wherever important crimes are, and don't choose coverage along race or neighborhood lines.

"We're not pursuing bad news. But look, if there's a shooting in Wexford we're going to go cover it. If there's a shooting in Homewood we're going to go cover a shooting in Homewood," said Alex Bongiorno, news director for WTAE-TV.

It would be easier for stations to cover other stories, said Mr. Goldrick and others, if black activists were better at communicating with newsrooms about events.

"There's a steady stream of information coming into our newsroom all the time. It's very easy for the negative to come in: We have police scanners, fire scanners and public information officers to let us know what's going on," he said. "We want to do positive news. Nobody wants to knock on the door and talk to the mom who just lost her son."

Activists and news directors at the session (including KDKA-TV's Anne Linaberger and KQV Radio's Frank Gottlieb) also discussed ways to educate community groups on communications, support internships and jobs, work together on multimedia projects and other efforts -- including the joint agreement by the city's news outlets -- all of which the group committed to work on further.

"The challenge that we have is to represent a community that is in fact divided in many ways," said Ron Porter, the facilitator of the two-hour summit meeting. "Our job is not to accentuate or accelerate the polarities but to identify the common ground."


Tim McNulty: tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.


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