The protests following the death of George Floyd are already taking a toll on all of us. For journalists who entered this profession to make a difference, situations like these can make you feel helpless. When an event like this happens during a pandemic where you’ve undoubtedly encountered exhaustion and burnout, you may feel hopeless.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
If you chose to be a journalist to make a difference, then this is an opportunity make a difference. The current racial issues in America will eventually minimized by the unforgivable news cycle, but the underlying issues aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be there to stay. And this is your opportunity to give this crucial topic the coverage it deserves and help pave a path to healing and unity in your community.
So where do you start? And how do you start? That can be an overwhelming question. And I’ve been there.
And the end of 2016, our newsroom covered the murders of two small children. These killings culminated a year of violence that ravaged Arkansas’ capital city of Little Rock. Our journalists felt helpless and hopeless; they were flat-out tired of covering these tragedies and no solution was in sight. So we did our part to help craft a solution. We spent the next couple months meeting with stakeholders and community leaders and launched Victory Over Violence in 2017. You can read more about the multi-layered iniatives here. Bottom line: our efforts help empower groups, recruit mentors, provide a voice to the voiceless — and most importantly, lower the crime rate.
While this situation is very different, the end goal is the same. We want to provide a solution to a problem that threatens to cripple our community and bring unity to our neighborhoods.
Earlier this week, I spoke with Fox16 anchor Donna Terrell. She played a crucial role in the launch and execution of our campaign in Little Rock. Here are a few ideas we brainstormed to get you thinking:
Virtual Town Halls – Right now, people want their voices heard, and we have the platforms to help make that happen. While a typical in-person town hall may not be possible, we have the technology to go virtual. Over the last few months, Nexstar Media Group has hosted more than 3 dozen town hall meetings with lawmakers centered around the COVID-19 person. In most cases, those lawmakers were brought in via Zoom — and questions were often asked on tape by the public. Using this format, we can easily host critical conversations centered on race — just as WROC in Rochester did on June 1.
Courageous Conversations – A few years ago, KOLR-TV in Springfield, Missouri won an Emmy award for its courageous conversations series where they took an in-depth dive into race realities. They did a series of stories over a couple weeks. I think stations have the opportunity to do a series like this over an extended period of time. Whether it’s a reporter profiling issues across your community or playing middle man in a conversation with people from two different backgrounds, this is a chance to to keep this issue in the forefront.
Provide a Voice for the Voiceless – You’ve heard the expression “everyone has a story.” This is your station’s opportunity to show that. Sit down with people who wouldn’t normally appear on television to talk about racial issues they’ve encountered in the past. A few years ago, WFAA’s David Schechter did a series called Two Chairs where he talked about issues with whoever stopped by. I think this is something you could adapt to make even more personal (one person’s story per segment) — and do so on a regular basis.
Days of Service – One of the most inspiring things I saw following the first couple nights of protests was volunteers coming together to clean up their streets. While the demonstrations will eventually end, there will always be opportunities to serve our neighbor — and do so together. Partner with organizations in town to host days of service where people unite to clean a community center or improve a park.
Fundraise for Local Groups – Our stations are in a unique position to help raise money and empower local groups working to make a difference in racial disparities. Could your station host a telethon benefiting a local group? Or could you turn it into a monthly segment/spotlight where a sponsor gives your highlighted non-profit a donation?
Unity Walks – Eventually the walks and peaceful demonstrations will come to an end — and this could be your opportunity to launch unity walks. As part of our Victory Over Violence campaign, we hosted walks in various neighborhoods followed by community gatherings. These offered the chance for people from different neighborhoods to meet and for law enforcement to connect with the people they serve.
Launch a Franchise – Think tackling an effort as a station would be too much? Figure out a franchise you could produce on your own. As a former news director, I always liked it when reporters brought me ideas for content series. Why? Because you knew it was something they’d be passionate about and make their own. Come up with a franchise (and there are a couple ideas above) that you could regularly contribute. Not on air? Consider a column or interview series for your website.
Social Media Series – If your station isn’t interested in committing to a series on race, you could easily produce your own on your social media channels. Whether it’s syndicating the content from Zoom or using guests features on Instagram Live, there are numerous ways to present an interview or conversation series on your social platforms. Over the weekend, ESPYs Humanitarian Award nominee and WWE star Titus O’Neal hosted a 1-hour conversation on race on Instagram. What’s stopping you from doing the same?
Start a Podcast – Looking to expand beyond your social channels? Consider a podcast tackling the topic. Find a co-host who offers a different perspective and interview stakeholders and community leaders. These days, the equipment and hosting services aren’t too costly.
Spotlight People Making a Difference – Who says social media has to be filled with negative news? Commit to highlighting people making a difference on the issues of race. KTHV anchor Craig O’Neal regularly spotlights an “Arkansan of the Day” on his social media channels. You could easily adapt his effort and showcase difference makers.
These ideas are just a start. I’m sure there are plenty of other fantastic things currently happening and things you’re brainstorming for the future. I’d love to update this article with your work or showcase it on social media. Shoot me a note at KellermanRA@yahoo.com.
I get you’re tired and this may sound like a lot, but it’s not too much. You can do it. And trust me, it’ll serve as a reminder of why you entered this business in the first place.
You have a platform. How will you use it?