Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Media fairness is focus at forum

The liveliest discussion at table No. 3 on Tuesday involved a St. Petersburg Times story about three teens who died last week when a stolen car slammed into a tree.

Some of the dozen people seated around the table thought a picture published Sunday of one of the mothers grieving at a memorial service was insensitive and intrusive.

"I think the media could have been more responsible and respectful of (Peggy Burge, mother of Rashad Golden, 14)," Jennie Long of St. Petersburg told the others at the table at the University of South Florida's Campus Activities Center.

Long and others said negative news is too often highlighted when it concerns predominantly minority communities, but not when it involves mostly white areas.

"I'm tired of seeing grieving mothers (in newspapers) every time I look up," said Sharon Russ, also of St. Petersburg.

Long and Russ were among roughly 120 people who participated in Ethnicity and Race in a Changing America, a national forum examining coverage of race, ethnicity and social issues in the media.

The League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area, the National Conference for Community and Justice and the Journalism and Media Studies Department at USF sponsored the free local forum, attended by at least 20 Tampa Bay area television, radio and print journalists.

The objective is to improve relations and understanding between journalists and the communities they cover.

"The one important thing that can happen tonight is that we're honest," St. Petersburg Times editorial board member and columnist Bill Maxwell told the crowd at the beginning of the forum. "If we're not honest, then it's a waste of time. Don't hold back."

After watching a video that included a small North Carolina town's response to a growing Latino population, participants broke up into smaller groups.

Among the questions: What effect do deadlines have on reporters' ability to gather information thoroughly? Why don't media outlets do more positive stories as well as stories on issues underlying breaking news? Why aren't white and minority communities covered equally? What effect does corporate ownership have on news coverage.

"I'm always afraid that we're not getting the whole story," said Jude Bagatti, who moved to Gulfport from Coconut Grove five months ago.

Following the discussion, Joseph Graves Jr., an evolutionary biologist at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, said: "We have a vision of race that was built in our minds in American society. I want to emphasize that _ it was built into our minds. Children do not see race. That is proof" that race is a social construct.

The forum's facilitator, Keith Woods of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, encouraged participants to spend more time asking questions than making statements, and more time understanding others than demanding to be understood.

"We'll never finish this conversation," Woods said. "This is going to go on for quite awhile."

Abul K Ali, left, leads a discussion group along with John Melartin and Rasool Bashir after hearing from St. Petersburg Times columnist Bill Maxwell at a forum on race and ethnicity. The event, held at the University of South Florida, was sponsored in part by the League of Women Voters.