“You don’t realize sometimes the impact you had until you start to look back retrospectively,” Hayes-Freeland says.
Since retiring last fall, she has had time to consider what she accomplished — and she has heard from others about how her broadcasts touched them too.
Hayes-Freeland recently picked up the President’s Award for “outstanding career achievement” from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. And this weekend, she will be feted along with other journalists during a Salute to Pittsburgh’s Black Media Pioneers at the Black Tie Honors Gala as part of the local Juneteenth celebration. The sold-out event takes place on Sunday in the Omni William Penn Hotel’s grand ballroom.
This event celebrating Black journalists could not come at a better time as Pittsburgh’s media must take up the challenge of ensuring our newsrooms and news coverage reflect the entire city with its many perspectives.
It was just over two years ago that media researcher Letrell Crittenden pointed out the stark lack of diversity in Pittsburgh media and noted that local newsrooms had been so unwelcoming to many journalists of color that they left their jobs, and often the city.
The work we all must do to address this challenge was interrupted by the pandemic. Now all of us — newsroom leaders, reporters and, yes, media consumers (you, the public) — need to get back to it.
Events such as the Black Tie Honors Gala highlight the work that has been done and the people doing it, particularly within Pittsburgh’s Black community.
The list of honorees includes Sheldon Ingram and Andrew Stockey of WTAE; Lisa Sylvester of WPXI-TV; and journalists who were until recently on local airwaves: Bob Allen, Timyka Artist, Jonas Chaney, Darieth Chisolm, Harold Hayes, Vince Sims, Dee Thompson, Brenda Waters and Hayes-Freeland.
Many of the honorees are pioneers as the first, or among the first, Black journalists in the roles they played.
“The power in this comes from the magnitude of people being gathered,” Hayes-Freeland says. “If you were able to add up all of the years collectively that we represent in this business, I’m sure it would be overwhelming.”
Organizer B Marshall says all that collective experience — on camera and in the community — was the main reason he wanted to honor Black journalists this year.
“These honorees have been active in the communities for years — other than as newscasters — and supported stop-the-violence programs,” Marshall says.
By honoring these journalists, Marshall said he hopes others will emulate their work — and that more local media outlets will hire African-American reporters and give them pathways to advance within their newsroom and across our city.
For us to have a thriving home, with a vibrant local media, we must celebrate those who have laid the foundations – and then work together to build a more welcoming and inclusive Pittsburgh.
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. You can find all of his columns here, and you may email him.