PITTSBURGH – The recent reckless statements WTAE veteran anchor and reporter Wendy Bell made, on her station-affiliated Facebook account, about African-American males deserved her eventual apology. The irresponsible statements demonstrate a persistent problem with how African-Americans are negatively stereotyped by too many journalists and news organizations.
More than 40 years after the federal Kerner Commission chastised the media for negatively stereotyping working-class Black communities, and five years after a Heinz Endowments study revealed that such stereotyping is rampant within news coverage in the Pittsburgh market, a veteran reporter with one of the city’s most prominent news organizations opted to denigrate African-Americans in Wilkinsburg — and everywhere else — in one of the most offensive ways imaginable.
There is also the issue of a reporter completely trampling on journalistic ethics by inserting her opinions publicly into an important issue.
Bell may have meant well, but damage is about impact, not intent. Careless, presumptive and ignorant musings have no business flowing from the keyboards of journalists for public consumption.
Unfortunately, Bell is not alone. The very issues found within Bell’s statement also existed in a racially problematic column written by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jack Kelly in September.
PBMF swiftly condemned the column and requested a meeting with P-G management, but declined to meet when P-G editors attempted to censor reporting of the meeting.
Both incidents are emblematic of an institutional problem across the news media in Pittsburgh, a media that employs few individuals of color, has become less racially diverse and continues to over-represent African-Americans as criminals and derelicts as opposed to engaging in more balanced and nuanced discussions of their everyday lives.
The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation calls on WTAE, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and all other news outlets in the Pittsburgh region to take affirmative steps to improving a systemic problem – the stereotyping and misrepresentation of African-American communities – that contributes to the problems impacting race relations in this city.
The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation invites WTAE’s newsroom managers to meet with PBMF to discuss how to prevent future mistakes of this nature. And PBMF encourages all local news organizations to cooperate with PBMF in its recently begun study of the number of African-American and other minority journalists working in this region and whether they are empowered to help ensure that news coverage is fair, balanced and as free as possible of the type of irresponsible content characterized by the referenced examples.
Additionally, PBMF is planning to hold a seminar to help local media professionals and their employers appreciate and navigate multicultural aspects of 21st century journalism.
PBMF and media outlets can work together to solve these issues, or ignore a problem that has gripped the community for far too long. PBMF hopes that the media in Pittsburgh will join it in taking the side of action.
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