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Pulitzer winner exhorts students

The former Washington Post reporter speaks at the opening of a USF St. Petersburg newsroom in Midtown.

By ABHA BHATTARAI
Published October 1, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Pulitzer Prize winner Leon Dash spoke about the importance of social and historical context in journalism at the Saturday opening of a University of South Florida St. Petersburg newsroom in Midtown.

"The task of journalism students will be to make the lives of these Midtown residents come alive," Dash said to an audience of students, professors and local residents. "Emphasize that no one part of the lives of the people of Midtown is separate from the other parts."

Dash - who won a Pulitzer for a series he wrote about a black family's descent into a cycle of poverty, illiteracy and crime - told the audience to remember that social problems do not exist in isolation.

"What you are reporting on here is replicated in communities throughout America," the former Washington Post reporter said.

Dash also urged students to put stories into historical perspective because many problems, like the social isolation of poor blacks, are remnants of decades of "exclusion and oppression."

The Neighborhood News Bureau will give students a closer look at social issues, founder G. Michael Killenburg said.

"It's a place where theory meets practice, where critical thought meets action," said Tony Silva, the director of USF's journalism department.

"You find the best stories by walking in the streets and the sidewalks," said Killenburg, a former USF journalism professor. "It's important that we're in the community and that people know we're in the community."

Dash pointed out that Midtown residents - those who lived in ZIP codes 33705 and 33712 - had the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and referrals to juvenile detention centers in South Pinellas County.

It's important for students to aggressively tackle issues like illiteracy, teenage pregnancy and juvenile delinquency that are plaguing poor black communities, he said.

"[Midtown] and communities like it are societal creations," Dash said. "There is no need to be defensive of a societal creation."