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Systemic Racism And Bias In Pittsburgh Media

Deanna Garcia
90.5 WESA
Panelists will discuss representation in newsrooms at an event at the August Wilson Center Wednesday.

On today's program: How overwhelmingly white Pittsburgh media outlets cover black lives; day-to-day concerns of rural Americans aren’t being addressed in campaign stump speeches; the Wilkinsburg murder trial moves into deliberations; and VA Pittsburgh wants more veterans to try digital health care benefits.


Pittsburgh newsrooms have a diversity problem
(00:00 — 11:07)

“It's not just coverage. It's not just diversity in newsrooms,” journalist and researcher Letrell Crittenden says. “It's a failure to properly engage African American communities on a routine basis,  notably more marginalized pockets of the black community, a lack of strong media serving black communities and a lack of collaboration among local media to tackle issues within the community.”  

Crittenden, a communications professor, says Pittsburgh stands in contrast to places like Philadelphia where he’s based at Thomas Jefferson University, and that it’s on media outlets, local charitable institutions and the city itself to solve the crisis of underrepresentation and all it’s borne. 

“The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation has won two (national chapter of the year) awards, but they’re woefully underfunded, specifically from the foundation community,” Crittenden says. He points to Philadelphia’s more robust collaborations across newsrooms that better engage the city’s black residents. Pittsburgh is unique, he says, because it couples a lack of representation with a lack of engagement by white gatekeepers.

Crittenden will join several guests sharing their experience Wednesday night at the Pittsburgh Black Media Panel at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center. The conversation will be presented in partnership with Pittsburgh City Paper and PublicSource.org, and is free and open to the public.

How can presidential candidates appeal to rural Pennsylvanians?
(12:15 — 17:37)

Most presidential campaigns try to appeal to rural America, but often the day-to-day problems facing less populated parts of the country don’t end up in stump speeches. As part of Keystone Crossroads’ Embedded 2020 series, Jen Kinney spent time in rural Schuylkill County where a volunteer firefighter shortage threatens both tradition and safety

Deliberations begin in the Wilkinsburg shooting trial
(17:39 — 22:58) 

The trial against Cheron Shelton, the man accused in the 2016 mass shooting of five people and an unborn child in Wilkinsburg, was expected to take two to three weeks, but jury deliberations began after only six days. 

David Harris, University of Pittsburgh law professor and WESA legal analyst, says this was helped in part by dropped charges against another defendant, Robert Thomas, but that it’s hard to predict how long any case will take to play out. 

Prosecutors presented cell phone tower records and other circumstantial evidence for jurors to consider as they weigh first- and third-degree murder charges. Defense attorneys say DNA evidence found in spit at the scene proves their client’s innocence, because it doesn’t match either original defendant. 

Reshaping how veterans access health care
(23:00 — 38:58)

U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie pledged in 2019 that telemedicine would be a top priority nationwide, and pointed to places like Pittsburgh to lead the way. That includes new commitments to rural access and telemedicine, but also the promotion of existing tools like My HealtheVet, a personal health management system now in its 15th year. 

Local coordinators Dave White and Bill Frazier say 43 percent of eligible veterans in the Pittsburgh area are signed up, from the youngest enlistees to people in their 90s. It’s a figure Frazier says he’s proud of, but there’s lots of room for growth.

MyHealtheVet can facilitate prescriptions, calendar events and appointments, scheduling with primary and secondary care physicians, secure messaging and easy access to electronic medical records and test results.

Dr. Jason Fay oversees the local Office of Connected Care. He says he’s excited to expand the program’s offerings into specialty care. Patients will be able to use telehealth services to complete follow up visits with providers, avoiding routine trips to the VA for things like post-op visits. 

90.5 WESA’s Caroline Bourque and Caldwell Holden contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Megan Harris is a writer, editor, photographer and curator for Pittsburgh's NPR News station. She leads editorial coverage for The Confluence, 90.5 WESA's live, one-hour, daily morning news show.
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