Tara Fay Coleman says she doesn’t know much about Pittsburgh media, but it seems to me like she might understand it better than many of us who are deeply embedded.

An avid consumer of the city’s news outlets, Coleman started noticing some things that bothered her about the ways in which journalists report about black residents.

Although she works primarily as an artist, she is organizing the Pittsburgh Black Media Panel, a discussion about what the local media gets wrong — and right — when it comes to covering black communities. The Feb. 12 event features two all-black panels of people in media and marketing, and Coleman hopes to have a diverse audience that includes white people who make decisions in local newsrooms.

“It’s a national issue but my focus was local because I do reside in Pittsburgh: the biased story framing, the wrong people telling these stories, the wrong people speaking on behalf of communities, and things along those lines on,” Coleman told me. “There’s a lot of underlying racism when you look at how black people are portrayed in the media.”

The media panel comes at a critical time for Pittsburghers — and, in particular, white people who run newsrooms.

In April, the National Association of Black Journalists will hold its regional conference in Pittsburgh, and the event serves as a perfect platform for editors, producers and reporters to not only talk about the problem of racism but to get involved. The main thing we can all do is simply to be present.

But the panel also follows two reports that point to the problems that people of color face in Pittsburgh.

The city’s Gender Equity Commission released a report in September showing that while Pittsburgh’s white residents have a quality of life that is comparable to counterparts in other cities, black residents — and women, in particular — have a much worse situation. When it comes to infant mortality, for instance, “we have rates in our black community that are third-world,” Mayor Bill Peduto said at the time.

Then in October, Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) ran the results of a study showing that black reporters in Pittsburgh have a poor quality of life both inside and outside of newsrooms: They are underrepresented, they have a harder time getting ahead and they have every incentive to leave the region.

“These were things that we kind of collectively knew, and they were just sort of being brought to light,” Coleman told me. “It’s good to have tangible and quantifiable data, but we’ve always known this. I’ve lived in this city a long time, and I can speak to the ways in which my quality of life has been affected, the ways in which I feel unsafe.”

To be clear, these are not solely black problems; we all suffer when people in our region feel discriminated against and left out.

The panel features:

  • Brian Cook, president of the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation;
  • Brentin Mock, a staff writer at CityLab;
  • sarah huny young, creative director of Supreme Clientele and event producer of Darkness is Spreading;
  • Tereneh Idia, columnist for Pittsburgh City Paper;
  • Lynne Hayes-Freeland, reporter for KDKA-TV;
  • Thomas Agnew, editor-in-chief of JENESIS Magazine and co-owner of BOOM Concepts;
  • Markeea “Keea” Hart, Girls Running Shit; and,
  • Letrell Crittenden, the researcher who authored the study that appeared in CJR.

Participants at the event will also be able to record messages for local media organizations. Pittsburgh City Paper and PublicSource are co-sponsoring the panel.

“We want this to be a teaching experience and we want it to be something positive that we’re able to see results from,” Coleman said, adding that it’s an opportunity to “call in” white journalists — rather than calling out anyone.

So there it is: This event should be for anyone who cares about Pittsburgh media, and especially for those people in positions to set newsroom culture, make hiring decisions and frame content.

Invitations were sent out to news media outlets throughout the region, Coleman says. What if white journalists still don’t show up?

“It’ll say more about them than it does about us,” Coleman told me. “A lot of people are aware that this is going on, and if there are organizations who are choosing not to be there, again it says a lot about them and the direction they plan on taking their organization.”

The Pittsburgh Black Media Panel takes place at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center. The event is free and participants can register here

Comings & Goings

  • Matt Smith, the Post-Gazette’s former deputy local news editor, has joined NEXTpittsburgh as its new managing editor. Smith had been at the PG for nearly 27 years before leaving the newspaper in November.
  • Kim Palmiero, a former Trib Total Media editor and the immediate past president of the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania, is taking over Postindustrial, the magazine and marketing company, as its new CEO and editor in chief. She replaces co-founder Matt Stroud, who is stepping down “to pursue journalistic projects outside the region,” according to the company’s press release.
  • Adam Shuck, founder of a daily email newsletter known as The Pittsburgh Record — and before that, Eat That, Read This — announced that he will publish his last edition on Friday, Feb. 7. Shuck started the emails as a service for a few friends in 2014. “It grew into a hobby, and then an occupation, a dedication, something that came to be as natural a part of my day as anything else,” he wrote to subscribers on Monday. Shuck moved the newsletter to Postindustrial in early 2019. Postindustrial announced that it plans to start publishing its own weekday newsletter.

The founding director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, Andy Conte writes the On Media column at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments. You can find all of his columns here, and you can reach him at PittsburghPublicEditor@gmail.com. Andy serves on the board of directors for the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania.

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.