Homewood in the Media
Homewood Brushton is often thought of as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, and has been referred to by some as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the United States. Our study hopes to investigate the differences in media portrayals of Homewood in outside media sources versus inside media sources. Our study expects to find that Homewood is overwhelmingly portrayed in a negative way in outside media outlets that do not include the perspective of citizens from the community. We expect to find that media outlets that do include the perspective of community members will be more optimistic about the neighborhood’s current events and its future. We intend to analyze several articles from both inside and outside media sources and investigate whether a disparity in perspective exists. We hope that by highlighting the discrepancy in Homewood Brushton’s portrayal in various media outlets we can assist in dispelling the negative stigma associated with the area and amplifying a positive community identity.
The media sources that we chose were meant to accurately display the perspective of outsiders versus insiders of Homewood. The topics and themes ranged from specific crimes that happened in Homewood, to events in the area, and even just talking about Homewood in general. There were five outside news sources that went from a simple Google top-results search to articles written from national news sites. Alongside these, we compared the language of five inside sources, such as a community Facebook page and the local Pittsburgh news. These voices stemmed from the input from a member of the Homewood Brushton community or someone seen as a local representation of this community. Each line of the text from every source was coded as positive (1), negative (-1), or neutral/non-relevant (0) information about Homewood and the occurrences within the community. Once we gathered this information from a total of ten sources, we were able to compare the five outside articles to the five inside ones through a statistical analysis. The analysis was done by coding the lines of text, then sorting the outside articles versus inside articles into the positive, negative, and neutral categories. Once we found the number of each instance, we just took the total of each category and divided it by the total number of lines. This is converted into a percentage, which makes it easy to see the proportion of the positive, negative, and neutral lines.
While the text from the articles that were found from outside sources was overwhelmingly negative, the imagery is not the same case. Most of the first thirty or so Google images of “Homewood,” “Homewood Brushton,” or Homewood PA,” would be considered as neutral images in our opinion. Many display normal brick buildings, colorful murals, or housing. Nothing about these images is overtly negative, and some of the colorful ones seemed to display a positive location to be or live. Why is there this discrepancy between words and images nationally associated with Homewood?
Google Image Searches
We believe that this stems from the fact that it’s easy for the media to exploit events and put a more negative spin on something going on in Homewood because this is always done at a distance. When people actually get close to Homewood—close enough to take these photos that we see on Google—the portrayal is less skewed and is able to see the positivity and good qualities of the Homewood area. The media is always harping on the negatives and making something “newsworthy,” but it may not be the accurate presentation of the overall truth. This will be further discussed in the Solutions Section, but Homewood needs to have a holistic voice to combat this skewed portrayal.
However, conflicting from the imagery in Homewood are the videos and clips relating to the area. When conducting a google video search of Homewood Brushton, the majority of videos painted a negative picture of Homewood. The entire first page of videos consisted of a report on crime taking place in the community or a virtual tour clip of a property or home for sale. This creates the image and perception that there exists a lot of crime in Homewood and people are fleeing the area. Although advertising for and filling the space with more people is not a bad thing, the sandwich of the videos between accounts of violence and crime paints a negative image.
We hypothesize again that this is due to the media exploiting the portrayal of the community by only highlighting negative events with a goal of creating a “good story.” The media also possesses a lot of sovereignty over videos accessible to the public. One thing that community members might do is attempt to create videos accessible to the public that reflect positively on the community and highlight the positive events taking place to help dilute the influence of negative accessible media.
The critical discourse analysis shows that 40.6% of all outside source text lines present information with a negative connotation whereas only 5.9% were seen as positive. The inside sources contained 20.8% of text as negative and 34.5% is positive. The remainder of the sources’ text were made up of neutral or irrelevant information. This percentage was not significant, so we did not include it in our analyses. When considering these percentages as ratios of negative to positive lines of text, the outside sources taken together present 6.8 times more negative than positive information, and the inside sources present 1.7 times more positive than negative lines of text. These findings accurately evaluate the overall presentation of Homewood as a whole from an outside media sources perspective versus a resident inside perspective on Homewood.
Unfortunately, this overwhelming focus on violence, drugs, and destruction that manifests in popular media is not unique to Homewood. “Bad news sell”, and most of the time, these news outlets do not understand the consequences of such bad exposure. It pushes citizens to move out and prevents new member from moving in, which causes informal racial and economic segregation. These neighborhoods are left with fewer citizens than their town’s ideal capacity. In Homewood’s case, there are about 6,000 people living in a space built for 30,000. This puts an economic strain on a town that is already disenfranchised. Persistently negative media coverage creates an endless cycle of poverty and segregation. Erving Goffman*, a sociologist, writes about impression management and a dramaturgical approach. He theorizes that if one consciously focuses on and tweaks their “presentation of self”, outside parties will begin to view them as the individual intended. All in all, it’s like a stage performance. We feel that these theories apply to vulnerable neighborhoods like Homewood as well. We want Homewood to shine and have their community constructed image to take center stage. Here are a few tips to make sure the media hears, sees, and shares Homewood’s community image.
*Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Doubleday: Garden City, New York, 1959.
How do you see your neighborhood?
Tell us about what Homewood means to you! Submit a few words that come to mind when you think about your neighborhood, and we’ll make a word collage like the one below.
Resources and Suggestions
The way that Homewood is presented in outside media differs greatly from the way it is presented in inside media. Outside media portrays Homewood much more negatively, whereas inside media (which caters to Homewood citizens and local Pittsburgh residents) portray Homewood more positively. In order to attempt to make the overall portrayal and perception of Homewood more positive, we suggest the following:
- Give Homewood a voice: Homewood should have primary control over the way they are presented and portrayed to the public. One way they could do this would be by creating a committee that would produce a newspaper that would accurately discuss events in Homewood. This would also provide Homewood with an opportunity to create a focus on positive happenings in the community, hopefully improving the perception of the area. This community-organized newspaper would be a great way to counterbalance the current negative portrayal of Homewood in outside media. Additionally, Homewood’s Media Committee could construct and send press releases to outside media sources encouraging them to highlight the “good news” in Homewood. (Community Media: a Good Practice Handbook)
- Create community service groups to improve the situation in Homewood: Creating a community service group would provide a positive opportunity for youth and those who have any sort of spare time to give back to Homewood and improve its condition. This could be a way to potentially deter youth or people in general from getting involved in crimes. One article mentioned teens getting involved in dangerous disputes quite often; if teens were volunteering, they would have less time to get involved in such disputes, which would make it more difficult for media to report on these disputes and crimes. This group would hopefully result in trickle-down feel-good actions, which would then result in a positive portrayal of Homewood. In other words, the less opportunity for the outside media to portray Homewood as negative, the more positive the portrayal will be.
- Sponsor more community-oriented events in Homewood in general: Much like other areas that are currently under gentrification (i.e. East Liberty), Homewood could begin to try to unify the community and take more pride in it. Homewood could begin hosting seasonal festivities and other recreational events. Trying to improve the atmosphere of Homewood could, as stated earlier, provide the media with more positivity to report on, rather than negativity. While community service groups would focus more on improving Homewood and its perception internally, these events would be more publicized and focus more on improving the perception of Homewood externally. These events would also hopefully draw in people from other communities around Pittsburgh and create diverse, healthy connections and relationships that would overall boost the morale and positive perception of Homewood.
Created by: Tiara Chadran, Liz John, Helen Ann Lawless, Kelsey Lee, and Jess McDade