Informative Summit on African American Male in American Media


“Part of what hurts the Black man in America, with respect to images, is that the scripts they have for us are all negative. The image of Black male as violent. The image of Black male as sexual predator.  The image of Black male as someone immoral or irresponsible. These are all the things that come up when the notion of the Black male emerge in the media.”

That was a bit of the thoughts from Marc Lamont Hill, associate professor of English Education at Teachers College of Columbia University, who was a keynote speaker at a daylong summit on November first in Pittsburgh on African American men. The summit, “Evolving the Image of the African American Male in American Media,” brought perspectives on the issue from four relevant groups:  journalism scholars and researchers, news decision makers, Black media news executives, and Black boys and young men.

Marc Lamont Hill

Hill’s remarks to the nearly 200 people gathered at the University Club in Pittsburgh were daunting. He spoke out loud the cold hard facts; that the Black male is in a crisis.

“When you look at any measure of social misery, Black men are at the top, any level of social prosperity Black men are at the bottom.  We die more at birth. We go to jail longer than our counterparts. We work harder for less money. We commit suicide at a higher rate. Any measure you can think of points to the fact that we are in a full-fledged crisis. The question now is, what we gonna do?” Hill, host of the nationally syndicated TV show, Our World Black Enterprise, pondered.

A study on perceptions surrounding Black men and boys in Pittsburgh was released at the summit. Portrayal and Perception: African American Men and Boys Pittsburgh Media Audit tracked stories from the city’s two mainstream daily newspapers, the African American weekly newspaper, as well as the three local network affiliate TV stations evening newscasts.

The analysis looked for coverage of 15 predominantly African American neighborhoods. Crime stories led all news topics linked to African American men and boys. In print, 37 percent (72 of 198) of all stories featuring the group focused on crime; on TV, 64 of 74 stories linked Black men and boys with crime or 86 percent.

While the summit focused conversation on the image of the African American male in the media, there also was discussion about the decline of the Black media, print and broadcast.

I was on a very learned panel, “A Conversation Among Black Media Executives,”  that discussed that subject, and many more issues. Joining me on the panel was Rod Doss, editor and publisher of the New Pittsburgh Courier, Pamela Newkirk, professor of journalism of New York University and author of Within the Veil: Black Journalists: White Media, as well as John B Smith, publisher and chief executive officer of the Atlanta Inquirer and first vice chairman for the National Newspaper Publishers Association. George Curry, president and CEO of George Curry Media moderated the discussion.

“I wanted to make them aware of the disparities that still exist within our community as businesses.” Smith replied when asked about what he hoped the biggest takeaway would be from people attending the event who watched his session.

John B. Smith

We talked during a sit-down I had with the panel shortly after the summit ended.

But Smith made it clear that he believed African Americans must become engaged. “They too must play an important part in order for us to foster the kind of things that we need to do in order to protect our community.”

Doss added, “Really, it’s about adhering to the mission that we’re still here preserving the mission, which is to tell our own story and plead our own cause. I think that’s still an integral part of the Black press and we are uniquely defined to do just that.”

Rod Doss

While the Black press may be struggling to survive, Smith doesn’t think it will ever die. “We will never die until the day in which racism dies and I do not foresee that ever. Because, since the beginning of time, racist attitudes and behavior have always existed and will continue to exist. The only way that we might be eradicated is to eradicate the racists and simply have one race. I do not foresee that ever.”

Curry took a look at the situation from another point of view. “The challenge still has to be that our people have to support our product. There’s no getting around that. You can’t blame White folks for this. If a media that’s unique as the Black press is that does a service that it does, then we need to support it in significant numbers. We’ll be around as long as Black people do that.”

The one day summit was presented by the University Of Pittsburgh Office Of Public Affairs. It was made possible by a grant from the Heinz Endowments.

–Tene’ Croom, President, Tene’ Croom Communications
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