Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists
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06/11/07 Lisa Marzilli
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:

The Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists held its monthly meeting on Saturday. The invited guest was Cathy Salustri, a writer for the Gulfport Gabber, an independent weekly that features articles and information on local community events.

Earlier this year, the Gabber had asked Salustri to cover Midtown, a predominantly black, lower income section of south St. Petersburg. Her editor felt it was an area too often underserved by bigger media and knew Salustri would write from a first hand perspective being a resident of the midtown neighborhood of Bartlett Park. After agreeing to take the assignment Salustri told WMNF she had second thoughts…(o.q. “point forward”)

The 3-part series was titled “A Tale of Two Cities” referring to Gulfport and St. Petersburg. The first installment called “The Best Intentions” dealt with the efforts of both city police chiefs to deal with problems along 49th St. South, a shared corridor plagued by crime & drugs.

The second article focused on last years staggering crime rates for St. Petersburg in which 8 of the 9 highest crime areas in the city fell within Midtown boundaries. Salustri wrote that out of every 100 Midtown residents, 22 fell prey to murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault or car theft.

The article was called; “Another Great Day in St. Petersburg” which was St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker’s opening line at a ribbon cutting ceremony for the much heralded, Sweetbay shopping center that recently opened in economically depressed Midtown. Salustri who had repeatedly tried to contact both the Mayor and Deputy Mayor for comment before running her story, ran into them at the grand opening…(o.q. “that live there”)

But, it was the third and final chapter in the series, which led to the invitation from the Association of Black Journalists. The piece was titled “I Had a Dream” and the first line of it read, “I’m a white woman living in a black neighborhood and I’m turning into a racist.”

Salustri proceeded to analytically list the things she experienced on a daily basis that led her to the controversial statement. She wrote about the relentless thumping music, the physical intimidation she met from blacks when she walked her dog, the numerous thefts of personal property, blatant daytime drug deals, and the fact that no one seemed to have a job.

The story not only ran on the front page of the Gabber but was also posted on Salustri’s blog as well as linked to, by Creative Loafing’s Alex Pickett in a piece about his own experience as a home owner in Bartlett Park.

Eric Deggans is St. Petersburg Times’ Media Critic, and current President of the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists. He opened Saturday’s meeting with a quote by journalist & political commentator, Walter Lippman…(o.q. “a human being”)

Salustri talked about the passionate feedback she received on her piece after Pickett linked to her blog but she said she was bothered by the reaction from her friends… (o.q. “to them anymore”)

Deggans said he was afraid that Salustri was confusing the issue of race with class… (o.q. “that’s my point”)

Ironically it wasn’t until about 40 minutes into the discussion before St. Pete Times reporter Nicole Johnson asked why Salustri decided to move to Bartlett Park and did she realize going in, that it was an all black neighborhood? (o.q. “in this situation”)

Salustri said she moved there because she was raised to believe that skin color didn’t matter and because it was the only affordable place a freelance writer could own a home. …(o.q. “my perceptions”)

Another journalist wanted to know how Salustri felt about the police knowing that there were 3 known crack houses in the area and doing nothing about it? Salustri said she didn’t blame the police and thought they were doing the best they could with the resources they had. She said the blame lay higher up… (o.q. “Rick Baker”)

As the meeting wound down, Deggans said that everyone harbored negative feelings to some degree but that it’s really all in how you deal with them. He suggested Salustri make more of an effort to get to know other people who live around her…(o.q. “not true”)

To download the story go to "gulfportgabber.com"

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