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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, June 18, 2024


June 15, 2001 – No matter what your race, physical appearance, sexual orientation or other characteristics may be, you have stories that define you as an individual. But they may or may not be heard by the mainstream media.
That was part of the message syndicated newspaper columnist Leonard Pitts brought to about 20 news media professionals at Chickie's Place on St. Thomas Friday as he talked about creating a more diverse environment in the media. His appearance also was telecast live to journalists gathered at WSVI/Channel 8 on St. Croix.
Pitts said the media are "gatekeepers" who in part determine which stories are heard and what aspects of a community are covered.
The media need to improve diversity by opening their doors to people of all shapes and sizes in an effort to reflect the communities they represent and tell the stories of all who live there, he said.
"We are the ones who put skin on stereotypes and faces on fears," Pitts said. "Our job is to introduce America to itself."
Lack of minority news media personnel has long been an issue. Pitts said the way to change that is by reaching out to minorities — advertising in publications they read, recruiting at colleges and schools they attend, encouraging them to pursue careers in journalism.
"If you want folks, you have to go where they are," Pitts said.
Additionally, he said, editors and upper-management executives need a better understanding of how to utilize the minority journalists they have already hired.
Editors too often restrict minority reporters to covering minority issues, he said, despite interests and expertise the writers may have in other areas.
As an example, Pitts pointed to his interest at The Miami Herald in covering stories about the Titanic after the hit movie about the ship's sinking came out in 1999.
He said he told his editors: "I know there were no black people on the Titanic, but think of me when you assign those stories"
Pitts said the news media can play a role in dispelling people's stereotypes about cultures or individuals they know little about, or they can be a force in creating them.
Even "if the stereotype is meant to be a compliment, it is still a stereotype," he said. "It is still a noose around the neck of someone's individuality."
Locally, he suggested, the news media could encourage young people to pursue journalism careers by going into the schools and talking to them about the field. Recalling that he had known young writers who wanted to be poets, he said he told them:
"The only poet making money" is Maya Angelou, "and she's a professor."
Pitts was visiting the Virgin Islands to speak about fatherhood as part of the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands Fatherhood Collaborative and to talk about his book "Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood."
The luncheon event was sponsored by the Virgin Islands News Association, a recently formed group of professionals in the print and electronic news media and related fields.
The goals of the association are to encourage ethical standards among journalists and media organizations in the territory, ensure freedom of information from public officials and oppose all actions that infringe on such freedom. The association also is committed to encouraging young Virgin Islanders to pursue careers in the news media.

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