Thursday, November 16, 2006
We need your help to change our image
Read Shanna's blog
Shanna Flowers is The Roanoke Times' metro columnist.
I realized a year ago how deeply entrenched this newspaper's legacy of bigotry, insensitivity and indifference toward blacks was when I spoke with Bessie Hurt after featuring her in a column.
Hurt, a black Roanoke native, thanked me for my portrayal of her in a piece about her decision to take care of her granddaughter while the teen's mother served in the military.
What Hurt said next stuck with me:
"I cried and I cried. I'm in the paper, and I didn't rob or kill nobody."
Every so often, something occurs or someone says something that reminds me of the lingering disenfranchisement over how horribly Roanoke's newspapers treated black people in Southwest Virginia.
I was reminded again Monday evening of the black community's continuing sense of estrangement from this newspaper.
The Roanoke Times held a reception so that people in the community could get to know the newspaper better and be a bigger part of it.
Someone from each department gave guests tips on everything from how to buy an ad, get an event listed in the Neighbors section and a story on the news pages to having a letter published on the editorial page.
We invited 420 minority- and women-owned businesses and black churches and organizations from the Roanoke and New River valleys. Of those invited, 75 people attended.
Twelve were black. That was disappointing for me.
A year ago, the newspaper held a similar event and invited 140 minority-owned businesses, black organizations and churches.
The results were similar. A dozen black people bothered to show up.
The horrible hurts that this newspaper in years past inflicted on a segment of its community don't heal easily.
That's why "Get The Word Out," the name of Monday night's event, was important. It was another way for the newspaper to reach out.
I can't gloss over the ugly history of this newspaper.
Look, I'll be honest. It's easy to sit back and seethe over our distasteful past.
Even now, we don't get it right all the time. In fact, the other evening all of the speakers were white.
That doesn't reflect the people in this building. We just plumb screwed up. There are several of us here who could have been on the podium.
But those are the things we have to get better at, and Get the Word Out shows we're willing to try by asking you to join us in making this paper what it needs to be to better reflect the lives of everyone in this community.
But we need help. If you don't want to meet us halfway, meet us a smidgen of the way.
I'm not going to try to snow you. Of course, reaching a wider readership is good for business.
But equally important is the newspaper's journalistic obligation to be relevant to our readers and to reflect them and the things they care about on these pages.
I haven't spoken with Bessie Hurt in nearly a year.
But I still remember her comment.
I think she would back me when I say that The Roanoke Times is a different paper than it used to be.
Shanna Flowers' column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.