NC Media & Journalism Hall of Fame induction - Ernie Pitt

The NC Media & Journalism Hall of Fame recognizes diverse individuals with ties to the state who have had a significant impact on the professions and the communities they serve. The honor is awarded to people at any stage of their careers who demonstrate leadership in their spheres of influence; service to the professions and society; and performance that meets the highest professional standards. Honorees are also people who inspire and advance others in media and journalism careers.

Ernie Pitt is a native of Greensboro, NC where he graduated Dudley High School. His  undergraduate studies began at North Carolina Agriculture and Technology University as an architecture major. At A&T, Ernie found a love of writing in one course that required frequent essays.  

Studies at NC A&T were interrupted when Ernie entered the U.S. Army, serving a stint in Vietnam.  Later he acquired an associate degree in English. A career counselor suggested he pursue a four-year degree, and he applied to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). On admittance to UNC, Bennie Renwick that took Ernie under his wing. Ernie vowed to not let Renwick or the University down with his admittance. 

Ernie graduated from UNC in May 1974.  In his senior year, Pitt’s assignment for an investigative journalism course was to research an article and “get it published.” His article was an expose on the rate of failure on the BAR exam for black law students in North Carolina.  He uncovered that most of the black students not passing the BAR attended North Carolina Central University while the white law students at the same university were passing.  Pitt’s article detailed the inherent racism of the BAR exam at the time being centered on a white experience and societal protocol in the south. 

 Satisfied with his article, Ernie submitted his piece to a few local newspapers and it was never published. The story was later picked up by a local newspaper in the Triangle, but the research was expanded and turned into more a national story with no credit to the original investigator. This was the sole impetus to him starting his own newspaper, The Winston-Salem Chronicle, in Winston-Salem, NC. Now operating as The Chronicle) 

The Winston-Salem Chronicle, established in 1974, had one goal and that was to expose and uncover disparities in the black community: giving voice to that community and its successes and challenges.  The Chronicle was a trendsetting weekly newspaper, published weekly on Thursdays. The Chronicle was the first black newspaper in North Carolina to be ABC audited with 7,500 in annual distribution. Indeed, the Chronicle was the first black newspaper to join the NC Press Association. Through this association, Pitt honed his skills as a publisher, focused on the local Winston-Salem community, and market for local news, receiving the top honor of Excellence in Community Newspapers. 

Later Pitt joined the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), winning hundreds of awards over a 20-year span. The Chronicle’s list of awards includes Best newspaper, Best Feature, Best news story, Best investigative story, Best layout and design, and many more. Pitt also earned Publisher of the year twice. Much of The Chronicle’s success could be attributed to the quality of Editors who joined Pitt and who would then go on to succeed at daily newspapers.  Of note were several UNC graduates to include Allen Johnson, Angela Wright, and T. Kevin Walker. 

 As The Chronicle grew, Pitt expanded to establish a printing company, call Newspaper Printers, Inc which specialized in student newspapers; Winston-Salem State University, Wake Forest, UNC Greensboro, and NC A&T were among those publications as well as some high school newspapers. Many local high school students visited The Chronicle to learn about newspapers. For many years, The Chronicle also published Black College Sports Review, a monthly insert sold to over 200 black newspapers across the country with sports highlights from Historically Black Colleges & Universities. Always looking to fill a niche in the community, other Chronicle publications included NC Black Business Directory, MLK Jr and Black History month inserts, a local guide to the National Black Theater Festival, monthly magazine, For Seniors Only..  Ernie’s attention to the details and look of his paper garnered attention from the Society of Newspaper Design and was asked to lead workshops on layout design. 

The impact of the Chronicle was entrenched in the community; with an annual awards banquet recognizing Man and Woman of the Year awards, an annual MLK Prayer Breakfast tackling themes of racism, sponsoring a Junior Varsity Basketball tournament, and the historic Family Day celebration in the summer. Family Day was like a large group family reunion with free food, games, tents with the family’s names, giveaways, and t-shirts. In the black community, family reunions are a big deal; it is a time of reconnection and fellowship sacred to that community.  Pitt even secured Dr. Maya Angelou to be a speaker one summer and sometimes over 1,000 families attended. Ernie ensured that Family Day would take place in a park inside of the black community. He wanted to spotlight the natural beauty of the black community at a time when it seemed like the popular thing was to highlight its challenges. 

Ernie held several volunteer and leadership positions in the community. He served the Housing Authority for seven years as its Chairman of the Board; he was the second Vice President of NNPA and a board member; sat on the board of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, several bank boards, and the local YMCA board; he was also a founding member of the Piedmont Club (a club established for black leaders out of segregation of other social clubs). Pitt started a real estate development firm and constructed the Hope 6 neighborhood of Lansing Ridge in Winston-Salem; and served on the planning committee of the late Larry Leon Hamlin in the creation of the National Black Theater Festival.  

Ernie is currently retired and working on establishing a Black Newspaper Museum in Winston-Salem to tell the story of the Black Press through The Chronicle’s varied artifacts and archives. Ernie’s accomplishments and forward thinking are noted in journalism texts about the Black Press.