Becoming a gatekeeper: Changing the narrative of black men in media

By Isaiah Singleton, SizingUpTheSouth writer reporting from Atlanta, Ga.

The media’s negative perception of the black community, specifically black men, may increase and harm the lives of black men, especially when depicted as violent and if they are accused of crimes they did not commit.

“Black Americans, and black men in particular, are overrepresented as perpetrators of crime in U.S. news media,”  the Center for American Progress stated. “This is especially true when looking at the incidence of violent crime.”

Vice President of Content Production and Sports at Georgia Public Broadcasting, Eric Burns talks to Tony Betton, a recent graduate of Georgia State University, about the next steps in his career at the AABJ Gatekeepers event in Atlanta on June 1. Photo by Isaiah Singleton

On June 1, the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists hosted “The Black Male Media Project: ‘Becoming a Gatekeeper’” at ABC-affiliate WSB-TV in Midtown Atlanta. Organizers designed this initiative, along with a series of workshops nationwide, to help change the narrative around the lives and images of black men in the news and in society.

As part of the Atlanta initiative, AABJ invited six black male panelists who hold decision-making roles in the journalism business to discuss how they received their role, how they have made an impact, and how the media could project black men in a more positive light.

From the left: Wilton Jackson, Glenn Marshall, Eric Ludgood, Drew Dawson, Carol Gantt, Collie Burnett, Eric Burns, and Tolly Carr. Photo by Isaiah Singleton

The six panelists were Collie Burnett, president and CEO of the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters, Inc.; Eric Burns, vice president of Content Production and Sports at Georgia Public Broadcasting; Tolly Carr, partner at HBCU Gameday; Drew Dawson, station manager at GPB in Augusta, Georgia; Eric Ludgood, assistant news director at WAGA-TV Fox 5; and Glenn Marshall, producer at PowerStarLive.

Marshall has recently begun to see himself as a gatekeeper, he said.

“It’s always been me getting help from other people as far as getting jobs, networking, and connecting with people,” he said. “Now, I’m starting to notice that a lot of younger people are coming to me for connections, networking, and to talk about ideas that may bounce off their heads.”

A producer at PowerStarLive, Glenn Marshall talks about why he thinks it is important to be one of the six gatekeepers for black men. Video by Isaiah Singleton

Also, becoming a gatekeeper for young people empowers him, Marshall said.

“It really is empowering to see the roles switched where I can lend a hand to help other people, give them words of encouragement, let them know my situation, how I got to where I am, and help them see that they can do what I have done or maybe even better,” Marshall said.

False perception of black males

Yet, young black men still face statistics that indicate many Americans still see them as connected to crime.

In a four-year average statistic report in 2015 from the New York Police Department and watchdog group Media Matters, African-American suspects were arrested in 54 percent of murder cases, 55 percent of theft cases, and 49 percent of assaults.

However, from Aug. 18 through Dec. 31, 2014 the evening news programs for WCBS, WNBC, WABC, and WNYW identified African-Americans as suspects in 68 percent of murder stories, 80 percent of stories about thefts, and 72 percent of stories about assaults.

These numbers depict that the local television stations in New York City were giving a false perception and view of how frequently African-Americans, especially black men, commit crimes, according to a study by Media Matters for America.

Georgia Public Broadcasting Station Manager Drew Dawson speaks at the Gatekeepers event about the impact of stories produced by black men in the newsroom and it passes the “Who Cares?” test. Video by Isaiah Singleton

Working in the journalism industry as a black man in Atlanta might be slightly different, Marshall said.

“Being a minority in this business is extremely tough,” he said.

“I tell people all the time, ‘Atlanta is not the norm.’ You look at the newsrooms here and it’s almost majority black or people of color.”

Glenn Marshall, producer at PowerStarLive

At his first journalism job in Springfield, Illinois, Marshall was the only man of color along with one black woman. “We would have to fight so hard for our stories and to tell our stories,” Marshall said.

Initiative and its impact

Breanna Durham, staff writer for the McDuffie Progress, called the event impactful.

“I am covering the event, but I got to sit and take everything in,” Durham said. “It was nice seeing everybody’s experiences, especially from an emotional point. I don’t think we often talk about the emotional impact of doing this kind of work.”

Outside of work, she does not meet a lot of journalists. “I think it’s important, especially as a person of color, to meet other journalists that have similar experiences,” she said.

AABJ President Carol Gantt talks spoke to SizingUpTheSouth about why the “Becoming a Gatekeeper” is important to every black man. Video by Isaiah Singleton

Kendall Murry, a junior at Georgia State University, attended the event because this topic was important to him, he said.

“I felt it was vital to learn from men who have already gained success in my future career field.”

Kendall Murray, junior at Georgia State University studying journalism

“I felt it was vital to learn from men who have already gained success in my future career field,” Murry said.  

“I felt like being able to speak to them one-on-one, asks my questions, and learn what it takes to be successful in this field, it has definitely prepared me toward gaining more knowledge and hopefully a career after I graduate,” Murray said.

The event brought awareness to why it is important for black men to continue going into journalism, Murry said.

“It is important for us to rely on each other and be successful,” he said. “To me, these successful men who were so humble, kind, and who genuinely cared about trying to get to know us and our ambition, it was a relief to me personally. I put a lot of pressure on me to gain that internship or gain more experience.”

After speaking with gatekeepers, Murry said he feels as if he has more time to become successful and acquire more experience under his belt before graduation, he said.

Isaiah Singleton is a freelance correspondent for SizingUpTheSouth.com and a recent graduate of Savannah State University majoring in journalism. Singleton was the 2018 summer intern for the Society of Professional Journalists – Region 3 and SizingUpTheSouth.com. To contact Singleton email him at isaiahdsingleton@gmail.com

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