Photo by TH Carlisle
Photo by TH Carlisle.

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part column. Read part one, which defines the problem, here

Pittsburgh’s media, the city and the region clearly have a diversity and racism problem. Once we acknowledge it, the vital next step is finding solutions.

We cannot have a thriving first-class city with a robust media environment until more white Pittsburghers take deliberate steps to amplify diverse voices, call out racism when it occurs and work harder to develop actual friendships with people who do not look like them.

“These are things that everybody in the city has to want to address,” says Letrell Crittenden, the author of a new report about racism and diversity problems in Pittsburgh media and the city, “The Pittsburgh problem: race, media and everyday life in the Steel City.”

Crittenden, who is African American, serves as program director and assistant professor of communication at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

“It can’t just simply be people of color who are urging for change. If you’re going to change the climate, it needs to be embraced by everyone,” he says. “That is the great question: Is the city willing to fully embrace inclusivity in a manner where all of its residents have an opportunity to indeed thrive?”

Based on interviews with journalists, Crittenden’s report found that reporters of color here “have a much lesser quality of life both inside and outside of the newsroom.” It follows a previous report he conducted that found Pittsburgh newsrooms gave little thought to diversity in their news coverage or in their newsrooms.

Faced with the reality of that problem, Pittsburgh’s news outlets must actively work to train, recruit and retain more journalists of color.

Why doesn’t this happen? I’ve heard many editors say that they have tried to hire African-American journalists and keep them, but that they cannot find qualified candidates — and that when they do, those journalists have better offers and opportunities.

Even Crittenden and his wife left Pittsburgh in 2017 for better offers in Philadelphia.

The pool of available journalists of color looking for work or willing to make a move is small everywhere, as columnist Shani O. Hilton wrote recently in Medium. The situation is even worse in Pittsburgh because of the city’s reputation as an unfriendly place for journalists of color, Crittenden said. It’s what he calls “the Pittsburgh problem.”

Still, editors’ excuses about being unable to hire more people of color sound just like that — excuses. It’s not enough to just run a job ad in a publication that serves people of color, and then express dismay when no one replies.

We must build community as well. For instance, white journalists should connect with the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and its local chapter, the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation. Sure, having these networks for hiring will be useful but there’s so much more to be gained.

“The most appropriate role is to be part of the fabric of PBMF,” the organization’s president Brian Cook told me. He started his own production company, Golden Sky Media, and he regularly freelances for WESA, WQED and the New Pittsburgh Courier.

This process starts with joining the organization: It includes attending its monthly meetings (third Thursday of every month), and its events, such as the annual Robert L. Vann Media Awards and Soul Café scholarship fundraiser.

White journalists, and particularly those in management positions, also can help more people of color consider journalism as a profession through programs such as the Frank Bolden Urban Multimedia Workshop, which high school students can participate in during the summer.

Tory Parrish, a regional director for NABJ and a reporter at Newsday in New York, says recruiters turn up at the group’s conferences for the job fair. It would be nice, she says, if they attended other conference sessions and stayed for the networking events.

“It’s also about engaging in meaningful, frank conversations,” Parrish says. “It’s about taking what you’ve learned back to your newsroom to improve the work environment for journalists and your coverage of minority communities. Stay for the workshop sessions, some of which address fair coverage of communities of color, discrimination black journalists face in newsrooms and in the field and job opportunities in beats with little diversity, such as business reporting, etc.”

News outlets also have to work to retain African-American journalists who do take a chance on Pittsburgh. That includes making sure African Americans serve in leadership roles — and receive equal pay — so employees see an upward path and can receive mentorship.

“Change,” Parrish says, “starts at the top — with management.”

Good news for us: NABJ will be holding its next Region I conference in Pittsburgh this spring on April 17-18. Yes, registration will be open to the public.

Unfortunately, Pittsburgh’s racism problem looms beyond the media industry. Journalists of color don’t just feel displaced at work, Crittenden said, but also in the community.

We all have to own this one. Pittsburgh has to become a much more welcoming place for people of color, immigrants, and, frankly, anyone from the outside. While many people in the region are talking about this issue, Pittsburgh’s media outlets can ensure it receives prominent coverage.

The Center for Media Innovation, a laboratory for the present and future of journalistic storytelling, which I run at Point Park University, will take on this issue as a central part of its activities, encouraging everyone involved in Pittsburgh media to build community with diverse audiences.

We can convene discussions. I asked Crittenden if he will visit to lead us in a community conversation about this topic and he said yes. It would be great if Pittsburgh media were engaged in a robust conversation about this topic by the time NABJ comes to town in the spring.

We can reach out to people who do not look like us and invest time to understand each other better. We can create and support opportunities for diverse groups of people to meet and talk about race — and about our lives on a more personal level.

In an article for Source earlier this year, New York journalist Emma Carew Grovum outlined 10 steps newsroom leaders can take, and most of them echo this idea of getting involved with groups that support diversity, working hard to identify and hire diverse candidates and then making sure you have plans to help them develop and grow within the organization.

Andrew Conte

Andrew Conte, founding director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, writes the On Media column at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments.