The [Wednesday] Papers
"Dr. Everett Righteous, founder and leader of the MMM (The Majority for Musical Morality), became influential in American politics through the use of his own cable TV network. He spoke about the evils of rock 'n' roll music, and how its permissive attitudes were responsible for the moral and economic decline of America. He was charismatic, entertaining, and above all, he understood the media."
Bet you didn't know Styx's 1983 Kilroy Was Here was about Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority.
"District officials do not keep an official tally, but they know 20 students have been shot to death - matching the highest total since they began tracking it nine years ago. The Tribune has identified seven more students who were beaten, suffocated or stabbed to death."
In Today's Reporter
* Minor League Report. Plan now for Olive Garden giveaways and State Farm Insurance Caps Night.
* What I Watched Last Night. It's crab season again. People might die.
Participants include Troy Duster, grandson of legendary civil rights activist Ida B. Wells and a South Side native who is now a sociology professor at New York University; Dr. Blase N. Polite of the University of Chicago; and Michele Goodwin of the Health Law Institute and Director of DePaul's Center for the Study of Race and Bioethics.
Human Rights Reporting
"It is our belief that the systematic underreporting in the mainstream media of police brutality, gender violence, racial discrimination, and the public housing crisis, among other issues, has produced a skewed portrait of the city that too often relies on tired stereotypes and hasty research. Such oversimplifications and problems are the products of a press that is suffering from increasing corporate conglomeration, a lack of institutional investment in coverage outside of high-income areas, and self-censorship at its highest levels. The resulting stories reinforce existing injustices or ignore them altogether, and often both.
"Nowhere do we see these issues converge as clearly as in Chicago's public housing system. While the Chicago Housing Authority's 'Plan for Transformation' has been wrapped and sold with catchphrases such as 'mixed-income development,' 'revitalization,' and 'urban renewal,' the reality is inextricably bound to the massive displacement of residents from such developments as the Robert Taylor Homes and Cabrini-Green, which continues years after the initial dismantlement of several projects. The injuries suffered by tenants at the hands of police officers, criminals, and administrators remain largely suppressed or ignored. In this city of almost three million, efforts to spin and prevent news of policy blunders are linked to a history of impunity for those few connected to powerful officials and structures.
"A case in point is the Chicago Tribune's lack of coverage of Bond vs. Utreras, a federal civil rights suit brought against the City by Diane Bond, a resident of Stateway Gardens, who alleged repeated acts of brutality, including sexual abuse, by five Chicago police officers. Settled in December 2006, the Bond case disclosed the underlying systemic conditions that allow abusive officers to operate with impunity.
"Yet the Tribune did not cover it. Rather than attribute this to the failures of individual reporters, we believe that it reflects an institutional failure. The resulting silence testifies to the media's complicity in allowing Chicago residents to remain ill-informed of rights abuses. If we are not aware of these, and those who are cannot or will not speak, we the public cannot act or vote responsibly. It is that simple.
"Because of the difficulty of current working conditions, not enough people are undertaking the work of documenting and investigating the conditions that allow human rights violations to happen here. Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), a one-time resident of Chicago and one of this country's brightest journalistic lights, once wrote: 'Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, and it does seem to me that notwithstanding all these social agencies and activities there is not that vigilance which should be exercised in the preservation of our rights.'
"One might wonder whether lack of vigilance has in part allowed for public housing developments such as the Ida B. Wells Homes, built in 1941, to be renamed 'Oakwood Shores' by private developers. We hope that more media professionals and Chicagoans consider what else is behind such a blatant erasure of Chicago history."
* John Conroy of the Reader has done Pulitzer-worthy work on police abuse and, in particular, the torture that occurred under former area commander Jon Burge. For a long time, Conroy was out there alone on the story. At some point it was taken up - though not as well - by the mainstream media and Conroy said at the panel that he's still unsure what the tipping point was or why and how the MSM finally got interested.
* Jamie Kalven is, among other things, the proprietor of View From The Ground. There is no good reason - only a handful of bad ones - why either of the Chicago dailies or other media outlets couldn't have done what Kalven did, which was to station himself at Stateway Gardens to record the CHA Plan for Transformation from, well, the ground. Isn't that where journalists should be?
* Beauty Turner is a reporter and assistant editor at Residents' Journal who is a joy and an inspiration. Turner was featured in a front-page Wall Street Journal article about RJ, and has a world of insight to spill about how reporters for the dailies do - or don't do - their jobs. She had the vision, instincts, and street smarts to see where the CHA was heading, producing the questions that her daily competitors should have been asking.
* Salome Chasnoff is the executive director of Beyondmedia Education, which works to expand access to the media for women. She is also a video and installation artist.
In brief, it's no surprise that the panel and audience generally concluded that human rights reporting - defined both as reporting focused on low-income people and also reporting about basic liberties lost - is lacking among the Chicago mainstream media, and what the Chicago mainstream media does produce is often naive and too trusting of officials and their PR narratives.
The daily papers, too, are slow to pick up on the work of non-traditional journalists, whether it's someone like Conroy, whose reporting is as traditional in its methods - documents and sources - as it gets but who works for a weekly, or someone like Turner, who again uses basic reporting methods fueled by the street smarts few daily reporters own but whose publication exists in the shadows. Every reporter ought to have been taught long ago, though, that the shadows are where the stories are.
Interestingly, Kalven thought local reporting on human rights issues had gotten worse over the years, and that a competitive spark between media outlets had been snuffed out. Conroy disagreed, saying he thought more reporters were paying attention to issues such as police abuse than in the past.
Students wanting to know what to do about their frustrations with coverage were advised that each and every one of them was a potential source, and they should learn how to pick out reporters and columnists they think would be amenable to hearing their pleas about stories that ought to be covered.
Though the "alternative" vs. "mainstream" dynamic shaped the discussion, I'm not completely fond of those divisions. I'm not sure the "alternative" media comes any closer to achieving its mission than the mainstream. In the end, quality journalism is quality journalism. I know this: either daily would do well to have these panelists on their staffs.
The Beachwood Tip Line: At a tipping point.
Posted on May 16, 2007
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