Mississippi station breaks ground on media training center aimed at HBCUs

Gray Television’s media training center broke ground June 28, 2022, next to Jackson, Mississippi’s WLBT’s studios.

The facility, which is expected to cost more than $1 million, will serve as a training ground for students, with a focus on those attending historically Black colleges and universities in the state.

“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,” Gray senior vice president of local media Sandy 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.”

The training center will be the first of its kind in the industry and the company has already selected 10 students to be part of the inaugural program that will start in the fall, though the new facility won’t be done until the spring of 2023.

In a story on the station’s website, Gray president and co-CEO Pat LaPlatney recalled taking a tour of the building more than 10 years ago and noticed a glassed-in area overlooking the studio.

LaPlatney asked what it was for — and was told it was a remnant from the days of segregation when Black individuals had to stay in specific parts of the building.

He also noted that the station’s previous owners routinely would switch to a “technical difficulty” sign when NBC was airing coverage of the civil rights movement during the 1950s. 

Prior to Gray ownership, the station was also the first TV station to have its license revoked by the FCC for failing to serve the public interest after a series of events, including refusing to air the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case in 1955 that determined that segregated schooling was unconstitutional. 

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The idea for the training center was pitched by VP and general manager Ted Fortenberry and the company moved forward with the idea.

Today’s WLBT team features a diverse lineup of staff, but Gray Television’s five-person executive leadership team is entirely male, with no person of color, though the station’s “senior leadership” team has more women and diversity. 

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