Pittsburgh City Paper promises community it will continue working to improve coverage and outreach | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Monday, June 8, 2020

Pittsburgh City Paper promises community it will continue working to improve coverage and outreach

Editor-in-chief Lisa Cunningham opens up about her own misses, and lessons learned

Posted By on Mon, Jun 8, 2020 at 4:50 PM

click to enlarge Pages from Pittsburgh City Paper
Pages from Pittsburgh City Paper
Pittsburgh media, including Pittsburgh City Paper, has a diversity problem.

Over the past week, readers watched as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first silenced a Black female reporter, pulled a Black photojournalist from protest coverage, then removed two stories from its website after two colleagues showed public support.

But the Post-Gazette isn’t alone.

Letrell Crittenden, program director and assistant professor of communication at Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University, reported on the problem inside the city’s newsrooms in his 2019 news report, “The Pittsburgh problem: race, media, and everyday life in the Steel City.”

“Pittsburgh news media over-represents African Americans as criminals,” Crittenden wrote in the report. And, at this year’s Pittsburgh Black Media Panel, Crittenden pointed out the flaws in Pittsburgh’s newsrooms, including Pittsburgh City Paper.

City Paper signed up to host the panel after being approached to do so by local art curator Tara Coleman, who wanted it to help local media organizations become more intentional in their reporting and hiring practices.

The panel featured eight Black media personalities who spoke on their shared experiences of working in the Pittsburgh mediascape: Crittenden; Brentin Mock, City Lab; J. Thomas Agnew, Jenesis Magazine; Tereneh Idia; City Paper and PublicSource; sarah huny young, creative director of Supreme Clientele and event producer of Darkness is Spreading; Lynne Hayes-Freeland, reporter with KDKA-TV news and host of “The Lynne Hayes-Freeland Show”; Markeea "Keea" Hart, of Girls Running Shit; and Brian Cook, president of the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation.

City Paper's intentions in working on the panel were to help bring light to what problems exist in Pittsburgh media, and hopefully, help figure out how to fix them. We also wanted to make sure we supported Black media, by compensating panelists for their time, and working with the Black community, including the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, our videographer, and our presenters. We reached out to media members from throughout Pittsburgh, and Coleman then narrowed down the final panelists, wanting to choose a balance "in terms of Black femme representation and a good mix of legacy media people and alternative media."

The audience was inspired by the words of legacy media members like Lynne Hayes-Freeland, who shared stories on what it’s like when your employer doesn’t cause you problems because they pretend you don’t exist, and local leaders like J. Thomas Agnew, who talked about the need for Black-led publications. But what we also learned in the process, and are still learning, is that we too have a lot to learn.

Today, I was sent this press release sent out by the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation in March, as a response to an apology I emailed panelists after discovering a very large, embarrassing mistake on our website, and was told today that it is being recirculated online. This press release was not shared with me prior to today, or I would have responded directly to PBMF's president Brian Cook both privately, and publicly, back in March. Today, though, in a city that is being scrutinized by the world, I feel I owe the entire city full transparency.

The Media Panel was recorded by a local freelance videographer hired by our marketing department and posted to our site after the event. We did not request names be added since everyone was introduced, and weren’t aware they were until it was too late, and it’s a grave mistake on our end for not watching the entire video before we put it up on our site.

The wrong names were posted on the wrong panelists. The worst possible mistake one could make. As soon as we found out, we removed the video, called the videographer, and asked for the names to be removed quickly, so we could get the video up as soon as we could, and I emailed an apology to all of the panelists. You can see the apology I sent in full in the press release.

In the press release, Black Media President Brian Cook correctly points out that it would have been better not to scrub their names, but to replace them properly, and I apologize for not understanding at the time the importance and taking the time to have the videographer do this.

In the press release, Cook also mentions that the PBMF was listed “with support from,” but says this was an error and questions our reasoning for this. This was an unfortunate misunderstanding — we misunderstood a monetary donation from a PBMF volunteer as coming from PBMF, when it instead came from the Pittsburgh Media Partnership, where the PBMF volunteer is employed. We placed the logo on the flyers for the event as an appreciation for what we thought was a sponsorship donation from PBMF. This was the first major editorial event our team hosted, we made too many mistakes, and we will learn from them. We again apologize for any confusion.

I personally also apologize to Brian Cook. We appreciated his contributions to the panel, I have long respected PBMF, and I would love to have a conversation whenever he is ready.

Another focus of the Black Media Panel that I feel the need to address, and a resounding question being asked of Pittsburgh media this weekend was: How diverse is your newsroom?

The answer is, not very. The follow-up is: We’re putting a plan in place to improve this in the future.

We currently have 18 full-time people on staff. Of those, eight work full-time in the editorial department, including Editor-in-Chief, Managing Editor, News Editor, Senior Writer, two Staff Writers, Photographer/Videographer, and Editorial Designer. Of those, five are women, and one is Black.

What is our plan to improve this and make our staff more diverse in the future? After the Pittsburgh Black Media Panel, I met with Barbara Johnson, the Senior Director for the Center for Race and Gender Equity at the YWCA who talked to me about the importance of setting up practices for more diverse future hires: to set up a mission statement for your company, to make sure your current work environment is accepting and inclusive, and to make sure that you seek out diverse applicants the next time you have an opening.

Times have been hard, and before the pandemic hit, City Paper’s management team had also been brainstorming ways to get additional funding to add on more hires. Earlier this year, when we lost most of our advertising and events revenue because of the pandemic, I applied for a $100,000 COVID-Relief Facebook grant, requesting funds for a full-time Black news reporter to cover the city’s Black community. (I had gotten our ownership’s approval to continue to fund this new position if I was able to get the grant covered in full for the first year.) Unfortunately, my application was rejected.

I recently got notice, however, that CP will be receiving a $7,000 COVID-Relief grant from Google, and have been working on a story outline to put in place for additional coverage to launch when that comes through, which includes hiring new freelance writers.

And it doesn't stop with improving our Black coverage, either. I also want more LGBTQ writers in the paper. And Latino. And Asian. There's so much more diversity I want to include in our pages.

Finally, one last question that keeps being asked on social media that I want to address is City Paper’s ownership and the question of the firing of our former editor-in-chief in 2018, who alleges that he was fired by our owners for criticizing a conservative politician.

Yes, our former editor got into a heated argument with a Butler Eagle sales manager in our office in 2018 over conservative politician Daryl Metcalfe. Yes, I wrote a letter describing that event afterwards, where I documented that the Butler Eagle sales manager yelled out that Daryl Metcalfe was his client. And yes, after that day, both the former editor and the Butler Eagle sales manager were removed from Pittsburgh City Paper offices and neither have worked for City Paper since. But no, I do not believe that Metcalfe was the reason the editor was fired.

For full disclosure, City Paper is owned by Eagle Media Corp., which also owns Butler Eagle and Cranberry Eagle. Yes, our owners are publicly conservative. Yes, our editorial staff is liberal. Yes, I run our editorial department independently from our owners. No, our owners have never made me change any content.

So yes, in full transparency, if it matters to you who owns City Paper, you should know that City Paper is owned by a local company who has different political views than the people who work for them. Like the Post-Gazette. But unlike the Post-Gazette, our owners do not control our editorial department.

Since becoming editor in 2018, I have made it my mission to amplify the voices in our community and do better for the people in our city, and our staff, than my predecessors. I’ve had some hits, but I’ve also had misses. This is not an easy job, but the one thing I can do is promise you that I will continue to work to do better. And I do. I promise that I’ll keep working to do better. And I hope you’ll keep me to that promise.

My email is always open: lcunning@pghcitypaper.com

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