A June 13 town hall meeting hosted by the television news network NBC 5 Chicago at the Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 W. Jackson Blvd. in Austin, was the scene of a rare conversation between West Siders and the high-wattage local media that covers their lives.
The conversation reflected the delicate line that media outlets throughout the city must straddle each day — when to cover the violence and when to take a break. How much coverage is too much?
Emma Asante, NBC 5’s vice president of community relations, told those in attendance that her staff is trying to strike a balance between reporting what happens in Chicago, including the crime, and not allowing that coverage to overshadow positive news.
“There is no reason why you should watch the newscast and not know [about] good things that are going on in our community,” said Asante, who added that, for the past two years, her network has been working with residents who sit on its Community Action Board to make sure that the good news doesn’t go unseen.
During the luncheon, the media outlet invited West Side pastors to suggest possible story ideas and ways NBC 5 could improve its coverage of West Side issues. Asante said that her staff has recently increased the number of positive news segments — such as its “Making a Difference” segment, which profiles interesting and positive people in different Chicago neighborhoods — that it airs. She said such segments have jumped from 92 last year to nearly 170 this year.
“We definitely need help in these communities,” said West Garfield Park filmmaker Anthony Sturdivart, who was featured on one of NBC 5’s “Making a Difference” news segments. “These kids out here are resource starved. If we can just help them and guide them, the future would be so bright.”
NBC 5 anchor Rob Stafford told the local leaders at the town hall that, when choosing what stories to use for the segment, the staff looks for two things: a strong “central character” who is doing something to make a difference and some people who that person has helped.
“[It’s] a person who is not shy, but who is honest, “said Stafford. “And you find a person who needs help, find a person who receives help and who’s willing to share their story.”
He also said that having people of color not just on staff, but in leadership positions, helped to make the news station more conscious of minority perspectives.
One of those staff members is photojournalist Donte Williams. Originally from Austin, Williams said that, growing up, he saw violence and other problems. But he had role models that inspired him to do something to try to change the community for the better, he said. He hopes that “Making a Difference” segments would provide the same kind of inspiration to this generation of kids.
“I want to be an example, because I’ve overcome [difficulties] because of influences,” Williams said. “I want to be that influence. We want to make a difference; we want to give back.”
Austin pastor Joseph Kyles, who was featured in an NBC 5 newscast after he received a successful lung transplant, noted that, while he was happy about the coverage, he had hoped that the media outlet would do a deeper profile of his experience.
“I thought someone at NBC would contact me to get the rest of the story,” Kyles noted.
There were also those in attendance who felt that the station’s crime coverage should be as exhaustive as has been the coverage of the recent Orlando, Florida shooting, during which a lone gunman entered a gay nightclub and killed 49 people and injured at least 50 more.
“Orlando is tragic, but I’m sick of Chicago,” said Will Davis, the vice president of development at Governors State University, who added that several college freshmen who reside in the city were scheduled to start college this fall but were gunned down before they could attend classes.
“Maybe NBC 5 should put up a ticker—this many shot this many dead, year to date,” he said. “Because the violence has to be thrown into people’s faces now.”