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Vexed With Local Reporting, Minority Community Gets Better News Coverage

BOSTON (ANS) -- People living in a section called Grove Hall had felt for years that local television presented an uneven portrayal of their African-American neighborhood. These concerns only increased when a report on the evening news about a sexual assault in the area failed to adequately disguise the victim's identity.

"The way in which the reporter covered (the story), the way in which the media cameras were angled, they all but identified that girl." said Laura Younger, a community leader. "A neighborhood is like a small town; we knew who she was, where they lived."

Residents decided it was time to convince local news outlets to offer a more well rounded picture of their community.

Younger, who was president of a local coalition of neighborhood and business associations called Project RIGHT Inc., said residents decided to use the inadequate protection of the young victim's identity to open up discussions with local news organizations, starting with the impression that their neighborhood, covering sections of the Roxbury and Dorchester districts, only became newsworthy after a violent crime or accident.

What was missing was broader coverage of other problems and struggles, such as health, transportation, zoning or economic development.

With the help of the Media Research Action Project at Boston College, the group planned to research the problem and meet with the news organizations, starting with WHDH-TV, the station that had broadcast the offending image.

"They came with specific anecdotal complaints. And they also came with broad overview of the problems in terms of Roxbury and Dorchester," said Charlotte Ryan, the co-director of the Media Research Action Project, which works to broaden citizen participation in the media.

Ryan's group did a study of 70 hours of local television news over a six-week period to determine what kind of coverage the community was receiving, and the research supported the anecdotal evidence. The survey found that seven out of every 10 stories about the Grove Hall area were focused on a crime or accident.

At the same time, Project Right members interviewed almost 200 Grove Hall residents about their impressions of the accuracy and breadth of media coverage of their neighborhood.

Members of Project RIGHT then met with the different news outlets to talk about the group's concerns. They also went to training sessions put on by the Boston Association of Black Journalists to hone their public relations skills and to learn how to pitch stories to reporters. "We learned we need to call more, especially if we see something not fair and accurate," said Younger.

Teaching local groups how to talk to reporters is an underappreciated aspect of community work, argues Ryan. Most community organizations don't spend the time to figure out how they can use the media to spread their message or get the attention of local lawmakers.

In December 1998, after a year of meetings with local news organizations, Project RIGHT, along with the Boston Association of Black Journalists, held a symposium with local print and television reporters, editors and producers to educate them about the neighborhood. Since then, the group has established a network of local sources, so when journalists call the organization about specific issues, they are directed to knowledgeable local contacts.

According to Jorge Martinez, the executive director of Project RIGHT, the group is raising money to put together a media center. Martinez said when stations and newspapers call the organization, they are doing stories not only on crime but also on quality-of-life issues, including traffic and needs to expand a local high school or build a community center.

"They really do bend over backward to let us know what is going on in the community and keep us informed," said Victoria Jones, the senior producer of programming at WHDH-TV and a coordinator with the National Association of Black Journalists.

COPYRIGHT 2000 The American News Service

            This article is copyrighted by The American News Service. Permission is granted to republish, reproduce or transmit American News Service articles under two conditions: (1) you are a media subscriber to The American News Service and (2) the material must be clearly identified by the words "The American News Service." ANS appreciates receiving tear sheets, tapes or videotapes of any article or program produced as a result of this material. Please send these to: The American News Service, 289 Fox Farm Road, Brattleboro, VT 05301. For further information, please call 1-800-654-NEWS or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Laura Maggi is a writer living in Cambridge, Mass.

Contacts:

Jorge Martinez, executive director, Project RIGHT Inc., Boston, Mass., 617-541-5450.

Laura Younger, outgoing president, Project RIGHT Inc., Boston, Mass., 617-445-2089.

Charlotte Ryan, co-director, Media Research and Action Project, Sociology Dept., Boston College, Boston, Mass., 617-552-8708. The project does research, training and counseling to encourage citizen access to media.

Victoria Jones, senior producer of programming, WHDH-TV, Boston, Mass., 617-725-0828. 

 
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