In which the keynote speaker inspired the room

by Hannah Silvers

NEW YORK CITY — Today’s keynote was given by Byron Pitts, (co-anchor, Nightline; chief national correspondent, ABC News; former contributor, 60 Minutes) who couldn’t read until he was 12 years old.

Hooked? So was everyone else.

He was a fantastic speaker who focused a good portion of his presentation on covering tragedy. Pitts encouraged us all to recognize our privileged situation, to take note of people who are suffering and to always ensure that we’re serving those around us. He emphasized sensitivity to the tragedy of others, especially when we’re tempted to make it all about us when our byline is involved.

I’ve noticed this before in college media, even in The Pendulum. We’re often tempted to write or share a story because we wrote it. We’re proud of our hard work, and we want it to be seen. But I think we need to keep the perspective Pitts talked about.

Our writing isn’t for us. It’s for the community. For covering tragedies, we have to remember that it’s our job to be respectful and sensitive to the people who were affected. For example, an story about victims of sexual violence might be technically more compelling with photos of bruised victims — but it’s not about getting a good story, it’s about protecting and respecting the emotions of the victims who may not want to be identified.

That’s not to say difficult stories shouldn’t be told, though. In fact, Pitts encouraged the audience to dive into the stories that need to be told, no matter what, if you have the privilege to do so. Privilege = responsibility.

Pitts also touched on issues of racial unrest in news coverage. An audience member asked why more cities like Ferguson, Missouri, experience similar situations but don’t make it to the news. Pitts brought it back to diversity in newsrooms. He said it’s impossible to cover diverse stories with any nuance without diverse staff members.

It was an inspiring presentation, especially since Pitts is an exceptional storyteller. It will be nice to have his words in mind when I inevitably coach a reporter through a tough situation.

Sad to be wrapping up the second day of #GTinNYC. It’s been great so far!

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