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Black activist becomes own media

| Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011

For most of the day on Tuesday, news executives from Pittsburgh and beyond sat in a room and banged their collective heads against the wall trying to figure out how to diversify their coverage of black men. The summit, "Evolving the Image of the African-American Male in American Media," turned up many concerns, but little in the way of answers.

The biggest problem: A report from the Heinz Endowments showed a dearth of coverage of black men among the city's mainstream media. When black men did make it on the front page of a newspaper, the study found, the stories were about crime 36 percent of the time.

It's a trend Pittsburgh activist Jasiri X has noticed. He was among the speakers at the Tuesday summit aimed at reshaping the coverage of black men in media. His approach to the problem• Start your own news program.

Jasiri started his career as a hip-hop artist and then began writing and performing "conscience rap" with his partner, Paradise Gray. His various protest songs brought him national fame.

In 2007, he started his news program, "This Week with Jasiri X," an Internet TV series in which he, as he puts it, raps the news of the day in four- or five-minute segments. His YouTube channel site so far has had more than 1 million hits. He still writes and performs separate songs, such as "I Am Troy Davis," about the recently executed Texas convicted murderer; "What if the Tea Party Were Black?" and "Republican Woman (Stay Away From Me)." The video for the last song boasts a gun-toting Sarah Palin lookalike. Which, you'd have to concede, you won't find in the mainstream media.

Jasiri's most popular song so far, though, is "Occupy (We the 99)," which has more than 300,000 views.

It isn't your average news broadcast, and Jasiri is not a journalist by trade, but his approach has gained traction. He's spoken at various journalism conferences held by news officials trying to reach youths and blacks.

He has his own opinion, of course, about the problem with mainstream media. "Blacks are absent in the decision-making process," he said. "We have a lack of representation." He added that many news organizations don't delve into black communities to see what's really going on there. Instead, they focus on breaking news, which mostly involves crime.

Most recently, the coverage of the Jordan Miles case bothered Jasiri, especially the use of the word "alleged" when it came to the city police officers accused of beating the teen after his 2010 arrest.

"Look at his face," he said. "He was beaten. But he was made to look like a criminal."

Jasiri said coverage like that leads blacks to find their news in other places -- where the black narrative is more rounded out. To that end, he's also produced a series highlighting Pittsburgh's black neighborhoods, such as Homewood and Lincoln-Larimer.

Jasiri told me he thinks the media's lack of full coverage of minorities will eventually lead to their demise. "(The lack of balance in coverage) can't be changed," he said. "Mainstream media (are) becoming extinct," he said.

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