Students work at computers in a classroom at Point Park University

Training days: PBMF prepares future journalists

By Kennedy Ellis

On a bright Saturday morning in August, Chris Moore stood in front of a classroom of teenagers quizzing them on current events.

“How did Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown arrive at training camp?”

“Connie Parker died this week. Why did all of Pittsburgh take note of her passing?”

“What official appointee is the president in a war of words with?”

The high school students listened intently to each question before writing down their answers in the classroom at Point Park University, in Downtown Pittsburgh.

A longtime producer/host at WQED Multimedia, Moore asked the teens questions about current events, encouraged them to watch the news, extolled the rewards of being current, and explained the importance of news literacy for aspiring journalists. However, for this particular exercise, Moore gave the students an additional incentive to be news junkies: money.

“Ms. George, how much is the reward for this week? I think it’s $40,” Moore said to the co-director of the workshop. “You all can win $40. I don’t know about you all, but I can use $40.”

The news quiz has been a staple of the Frank Bolden Urban Multimedia Workshop since Moore founded it in 1983. The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation, a journalism organization that supports diversity in media coverage and in the newsroom, sponsors the annual workshop, which is geared toward minority high school students who are interested in media careers.

Students receive a healthy dose of real-world journalism instruction in print/online news writing, photography, podcasting and TV broadcasting from volunteers who are professional journalists.

One of the goals of the workshop is to encourage students to go into the field to add their voices to American newsrooms. Minority journalists make up 17 percent of the newsrooms, according to the 2016 American Society of News Editors Diversity Survey.

PBMF President Tory Parrish said her group is committed to the workshop because members want to inspire students of color to become the next generation of journalists.

“We started having the workshop to increase diversity in the media,” Parrish said. “African-American journalist are few and far between. We hope young people will consider careers in media.”

This year’s workshop has undergone a major change. For the last several years, the workshop was residential — students lived in Point Park University dorms for a week. Because of funding cuts, the residency program was scrapped this year. Students are participating in daylong workshops on four consecutive Saturdays.

Olga George, who is also a KDKA assignment desk editor, said the change in the format has made it more of a challenge to get all the work done — which includes both instruction and media production. The change also meant fewer students. This year’s workshop has five participants. Normally, the workshop has between 25 to 30 students.

Brighton Heights resident Mekka Lloyd, 14, who will be a freshman in the coming school year at Obama High School, is one of the participants in this year’s workshop. She sees the experience as allowing black students like her to have a say in shaping the stories told in the media. In addition, Lloyd sees the workshop preparing them for success in their future endeavors.

“Our instructors are giving us the tools to build not only a name for ourselves, but character,” Lloyd said.

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Even with the challenges, George and Moore smile when they discuss why they organize the workshop year after year. They both view the program as a meaningful experience not just for the young people, but for them, as well.

“I get rewarded by getting re-energized in my business,” George said. “Seeing young people, you guys, gives me back the energy and the attitude needed every year.”

Moore takes pride in seeing former workshop students working and excelling in the media field. Past workshop students have gone on to work in print, television, and radio, and the workshop can even boast of graduating a 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner in Washington Post reporter Keith Alexander.

“To see some of the students going into this field and win Pulitzers and work for MSNBC, CBS, and stations in Toledo and all around the nation” makes it worthwhile to volunteer, Moore said.

Workshop alumna Allegra Johnson, 39, who now works as a reporter and producer at Sheridan Broadcasting Network, looks fondly on her workshop time in 1994, calling it both beneficial and a great experience.

“I think it gives students confidence, unmatched like any other thing,” Johnson said. “Even if you’re not going into broadcast or journalism, you can really get a lot out of this program and the connections you make.”

No one won the day’s news quiz on that Saturday. Students had to answer at least seven of 10 questions for the opportunity to win the prize. So, the pot of money rolls over to the next Saturday’s class, increasing the prize for the next news quiz.

However, that pot of gold won’t be any easier to obtain as George reminded students of a repeated saying almost as old as the workshop: “We don’t reward mediocrity.”

About the author: Kennedy Ellis is a 15-year-old sophomore at Hampton High School. She lives in Hampton Township.