WLBT, Gray Television break ground for Jackson media training center

Center will seek out students from Mississippi HBCUs to improve diversity within broadcast industry
Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 7:33 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Top leaders with Gray Television broke ground Tuesday for the first ever media training center to bring more diversity and inclusion in the broadcast industry, focusing on students from historically Black colleges and universities across the state.

The Gray Media Training Center, which will be built at WLBT’s downtown Jackson complex, will cost more than a million dollars to complete.

Though it won’t be completed until the spring, ten students from HBCUs in the state have already been chosen to begin the training program in the fall.

That center -- the first of its kind in the broadcast industry -- is something WLBT Vice President and General Manager Ted Fortenberry came up with months ago.

Fortenberry then pitched the idea to Gray leadership, and they quickly approved it.

“They’re going to have an opportunity to actually experience the real world, day-to-day operations the way Gray Television runs the TV stations,” Fortenberry said. “And that will be an unbelievable experience for them as they begin their career.”

Fortenberry said he hopes the center will increase diversity and inclusion within the news business at a time when some newsrooms don’t reflect what their communities look like.

Gray President and Co-CEO Pat LaPlatney said when he went on a tour of the station more than a decade ago, he noticed an area above the studio with windows looking down at the desk.

When he asked then-general manager Dan Modisett what that was, Modisett replied that it was a viewing area for African-Americans.

“Essentially the station had segregated viewing areas. One for the black people, one for the white people. It’s just one one of many unfortunate decisions made by the original owners of WLBT,” LaPlatney said. “Back in the 50s and 60s, the station manager made a habit of putting ‘technical difficulty’ signs on the air when NBC fed network programming covering the civil rights movement.”

WLBT was the first station in the U.S. that had its FCC license revoked because it failed to serve the public interest, with station personnel even keeping central Mississippians from seeing Thurgood Marshall discuss Brown v. Board of Education in 1955.

LaPlatney said WLBT was the only NBC affiliate that didn’t broadcast that landmark court proceeding.

“In launching the media training center at WLBT, a building that one time stood as a monument to ignorance, we’re using that facility to educate and help train young people,” LaPlatney said. “What they will learn will allow them to use fact and truth to help inform citizens of Mississippi and beyond at a time when facts and truth are needed more than ever.”

Tuesday’s unveiling of renderings for the new center took place at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

Gray Senior Vice President of Local Media Sandy Breland said it was a fitting locale for the announcement.

“We’re launching this project today in a wonderful and sobering facility that pays tribute to the Mississippi civil rights movement that changed the nation, and honors the men and women who used their voices at great cost to impact change,” Breland said. “To the students that will take part in this program, this new training center: you, too, have a voice. And this is an opportunity for you to have a positive impact.”

Breland, whose career in broadcast news spans nearly three decades, told the students Tuesday that Gray will do its best to help prepare them for any position in broadcast that they want to pursue.

“Be curious. Ask questions. Find your passion,” Breland said. “As broadcasters, we are better at serving our communities when we have our voices. Challenge yourself to make the most of this moment and become one of those voices.”

To find out more about the program and apply, click here.

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