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Tom – Viewers would have learned the names of the candidates, and not much else. We are told what party they are affiliated with, in this particular case, three Republicans and one Democrat, and what prior office they had held. This is all the background information that is given. In the story each of the four candidates is given only a sentence or two worth of air time. These short clips of each of the candidates are not terribly instructive in that the reporter chooses clips of them all saying essentially that same thing, that jobs and the economy are the most important issue facing Michigan. No details are given by the reporter as to what any of these four candidates would do about job loss in Michigan, all viewers are told is that these candidates consider it important. This fairly obvious fact, that the issue of job creation is important to voters, could have been stated by the reporter and then more specific statements about economic policies and plans from the candidates could have been shown. Instead, viewers are just given these fairly uninformative clips of the candidates all saying essentially the same thing.
Jeff – What there any other information provided in this story as to resources available about these candidates?
Tom – The story spends a considerable amount of time promoting WOOD 8’s website, which they state has a election 2006 section with information on the candidates. They note in the story that the complete interviews with the candidates are available on their website. Certainly, it’s good that these are available online but the online format is much more limited than broadcast TV. Residents without internet access, or with slower access would not be able to see these segments, limiting a pretty significant portion of the population form this information. And it should be remembered that these stations are given a license to be a TV broadcasters. So viewers should ask themselves, by restricting substantive election coverage to their website, are these TV stations really using the Public airwaves to serve the public interest?
Tom – There have been several election stories in the Grand Rapids Press over the past week. Jeff, which story stands out and what was it about?
Jeff – On Friday, July 14 the Press ran a story on in the region section on a candidate forum for the Kent County Circuit Court Judge race. The forum lasted 90 minutes covering a dozen questions, but the Press article is just a broad summary. Each candidate is quoted once, but the article doesn’t provide people with enough information to make any real distinctions between the candidates. All four of the candidates are lawyers, but the Press reporter doesn’t explore much of the candidate’s legal background or history in such a way as to provide readers with a track record for any of the candidates. There are also 2 audience members mentioned in the story, a couple, one who is endorsing a candidate and the other who still has not made up their mind.
Tom – So what is missing from this story?
Jeff – Well, the Press article doesn’t tell viewers that the Grand Rapids Bar Association was the primary organizer of this forum and that they crafted a series of questions that were asked first before the public had a chance to offer up questions. The Press article also fails to mention that the forum was broadcast live on cable channel 24 and be re-broadcast several times before the August 8 Primary, information that would be of benefit for the voting public, particularly those who did not attend the forum or watch it live. The rebroadcast dates and times were mentioned by the moderator several times throughout the 90 minute forum.
Tom – The Forum will be rebroadcast on July 27 at 7pm, July 30 at 6pm, and Aug 7 at 8pm..
Jeff – Last week WOOD TV 8 ran a 3 part series during the 11pm newscast called “In Depth: The Southeast Side.” The series is a response to all the recently reported violence. Tom what can you tell listeners about what was addressed in this series?
Tom - One thing worth noting in these stories is the use of images and background footage. In all three segments there are numerous times that footage of young men are shown as the reporter talks about crime in the neighborhood, and in all of these instances the men in the footage are African American. And yet, there is no discussion of race or racism in the story. So by not acknowledging race within the story, and yet showing only images of black males whenever discussing “violence”, the story is essentially leading the viewer to associate violence exclusively with African Americans. Now when it comes to the people interviewed in the stories, there is greater diversity. When it comes to the expert voices on violence in the community talked to in the story, there is much greater diversity, with a white cop, a white criminologist, and a white therapist all being interviewed? There are also several African Americans interviewed in these stories, the two given the most airtime are both female residents of the SE who had lost sons to violence. In both instances, the comments used from these two women do not paint a positive image of the community; rather they focus on their sadness and anger over losing a loved one. In the case of one of the women, the reporter notes that she is a community activist working against violence. No details are provided about this positive work being done, rather the focus is almost exclusively on her loss.
Jeff – In the second segment the primary source of the story is a White police officer and not only do viewers hear what we has to say about what is happening in the Southeast part of Grand Rapids, but the reporter did a ride along with the officer for much of the story. In many ways part two of the series resembles the TV show Cops and has a voyeuristic feel to it, with tight shots of the police officer’s face and then shots of the street through the car window. Also, by relying on a police officer as a source while doing a ride along, the story never looks at the relationship of the police to residents in the southeast of Grand Rapids, thus removing issues like racial profiling and police brutality.
Tom - Also worth pointing out is the use of language in these pieces, much of which is exaggerated or hyperbolic. So for example, the stories include phases such as the “Same old sad songs of the Street” or refer to “Vampires” coming out at night, or that the SE side is “like a powder Keg and it’s exploding.” At one point toward the end of the second segment, the reporter notes that the “sounds of gunfire drown out the positive voices.” Viewers should ask themselves what this kind of language really means. Obviously, gunfire is not literally drowning out voices; this is just how the media is choosing to frame the issue. The local TV media choose when and how much coverage they are going to devote to a particular issue; it is not the issues themselves that dictate the amount of coverage. We have documented in our own studies that the local news disproportionably focus on crime and violence, while spending far less time one community based efforts to improve living conditions. So viewers should ask themselves, is it disingenuous for the local news to claim that “gun shots drown out the positive voices” when they are the arbiters of what receives coverage and what does not?
Jeff – Lastly, it should be mentioned that on Monday several residents of the southeast side of Grand Rapids organized a protest outside of WOOD TV 8 in response to this 3 –part series. The residents felt that the coverage misrepresented their neighborhoods and did not spend adequate time on all of the positive changes and community efforts that people are engaged in. None of the local news media reported on this protest.