Everyday stories of people of color

Everyday stories

ToolonghavelocalmediaignoredtheeverydaystoriesofpeopleofcolorinChambersburg,theplacewhereIwasraised.ItismysincerehopethattheprojectIamlaunchingwillbringthistoanend.

Forthoseofyouwhomaynotknowme,Iama1996CASHSgraduatewhowentontobecomeajournalist,andthenaresearcherofjournalism.

MyjourneyhastakenmetoStateCollege,Chicago,PittsburghandnowPhiladelphia,whereIserveasProgramDirectorofCommunicationatThomasJeffersonUniversity.

Inrecentyears,Ihavewrittenalotaboutthefailuresofnewsroomstoprovidesolidcoverageoflocalcommunities;especiallythosethathaveagreatdealofdiversity.

Ifyouthinkmediadoesn’tdoagoodjobofcoveringlocalnews,Icanassureyouweagreeonmanythings.

Astimewentalong,however,IfeltIneededtodosomethingtolookatmediainmyhometown.Afterall,myearlyexperienceswithlocalmediainChambersburgwerearguablythemainreasonIdecidedtoenterjournalism.I‘vebeencriticalofhowBlackpeopleinChambersburghavebeencoveredinlocalmediaforoveraquartercentury.

‘What ticks me off’ is a call to future action

InapersonaljournalentryIwroteonJan.17,1994,IwascriticalofthePublicOpinion’slackofcoverageoftheS.T.E.P.programoutofShippensburgUniversity.The program started as a waytohelpBlackkidsgetintocollege. It’sactivitieswererarelycoveredbythepress, however.

“Whatticksmeoffisourlocalnewspaper,”15-year-oldmesaid.“Theyhavecoveredourprogramonce,anditwas(on)thepageofthepaper.”

How local media is doing

Thus,withthehelpofacolleague,Idecidedtofocusmyattentiononhowlocalmediawascoveringissuesrelatedtocommunitiesofcolorinthearea.

HowdidIdothis?Ispokedirectlywithlocalresidentsinaseriesoffocusgroups.Unfortunately, IwasnotshockedbywhatIlearned.

Everyday stories
Chanbersburg native Dr. Letrell Crittenden led focus groups in Chambersburg in an effort to learn how various segments of the community felt about local news coverage.

Largelyduetocutbacksimpactingnewsroomsacrossthenation,no oneinthearea–Black,Hispanic,White,conservative,progressive–isfullysatisfiedwiththenewstheyaregetting.

Staffingisamajorreason.ThePublicOpinionhasgonefromastaffofmorethan20toonewithfewerthanfourreportersinaspanof15years.

TheFranklinCountyFreePressdoesthebestjobitcan.Butsinceitessentiallyoperatesasaone-personshop,itcan’tpossiblycovereverything.

Butintermsofcoverageoflocalcommunitiesofcolor,theissueisdeeper.

Individualsinterviewedsaidtheydidn’tfeellocalmediaevercoveredwhatishappeningwithBlackorHispanicresidentswithanyregularity.Unlessitinvolvedsportsorcrime.

That’sthesameobservationImadein1994.

“Idon’tfeellikeeveninthiscommunitythere’sspaceforblackpeople;becauseIthinkwe’retrulyignored,”saidonefocusgroupparticipant,aBlackwoman.“(I)don’tthinkwegetmuchopportunitytoshowourselves.”


READ: An open letter to the community


The changing makeup of Chambersburg

That’sunfortunate,especiallygiventhechangingmakeupofChambersburg.

AccordingtothemostrecentCensusestimates,asaresultofitsrapidlygrowingHispanicpopulation,Chambersburg hasaminoritypopulationofabout30percent.

ThatmakestheboroughjustasdiverseasPittsburgh.Yetthisishardlyreflectedineverydaycoverage.

BlackandBrownresidentsare,justlikeyou,tryingtolivetheirbestlivesinthecommunity.

Myparents,myoldestlifelongfriends,mybaseballteammatesandmanyclassmatesstillliveinChambersburg.

It’snotrightthattheyliterallyhavetodosomethingwrong,orplaysports,togetattentioninlocalmedia.Thatneedstochange.

Forthatreason,Ihave —withtheassistancefundingreceivedfromtheTowCenteratColumbiaUniversity —trainedseverallocalresidentstocovernewsstoriesimpactingcommunitiesofcolorinChambersburg.

Everyday stories about everyday lives

Intheforthcomingweeks,youwillseesomeofthesestoriespublishedrightherewiththeFranklinCountyFreePress.

Theywillnotfocusoncrime.Theywillnotfocusonsports.

These stories willtellabout theeverydaylifeofneighborsyoumaynothaveknownyouhad.AndquiteoftentheywillhighlightissuesofinteresttoallresidentsofChambersburg;notablyastheyrelatetotheschools,commerceandotherareasofgreatimportance.

Inevitably,somepeople,includingmanycommentingonFacebookwhohaven’tbotheredtoreadthearticle,willsuggestthisisnothingmorethan“liberalbias.”

Itisnot.

It is merely an efforttoprovideacompletepictureoflocalpopulationsthathavehistoricallybeenignoredorstereotypedbylocalmedia.

That’snotbias.That’sjustgood,honestreporting.

I hope this effort makes a difference. It’s 25 years in the making.    


Everyday stories

Letrell Deshan Crittenden is Program Director and Assistant Professor of Communication at Jefferson University. Dr. Crittenden’s research  specializes in journalism history, diversity in the media and community journalism. He is a Chambersburg native and CASHS graduate.

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