A Future for Journalism: The Story of What’s Working

by Peter Block on April 11, 2011

Tagged as: Gifts / Hospitality / Association / Cooperation / Raising Children / Local Economy / Food / Safety / Health / Land/Environment / Care of People on the Margin

Most of what you read about the field of journalism is grim. Journalists now rank below lawyers as being trusted in the eyes of the public. Print news and TV channels are in a steep revenue decline. We are told that the younger generation gets their news from their friends on the Internet. We have come to believe that people have the attention span of a hummingbird and are only interested in sound bites and tweets. When it comes to the evening news, if it bleeds it leads. It is a celebrity obsessed culture; Charlie Sheen not only has a million Twitter followers, but we consider that fact to be news.

Well, on Thursday, April 7, 2011, from 8 to 9 in the evening, in Cincinnati, Ohio, this was all proved wrong. In case you forgot,Cincinnatiis a Midwestern city located some place other thanNew YorkandLos Angeles. It is not on the east coast or west coast.

For an hour, E.W. Scripps Company’s WCPO Channel 9, and a writer, producer, director named Brandi Smith told the story of what the city has been doing to heal itself from the civil disturbances that rocked the community in 2001. The piece is titled “Ten Years Later: A Changed City?”

The story presents the complexity and nuances of issues facing every city: safety, education, jobs for those on the margin, the divides between groups. While we heard from the usual city leaders, mostly we heard the voices of people working to make things better. Iris Roley, Stan Ross, and Victor Garcia are concerned citizens who are close to street life and work hard to reconcile what divides us. This documentary speaks to the paradoxes ingrained in gentrification, police-citizen tensions, racial divides, changing demographics, the hard to employ. It allows us to answer for ourselves whether the city is better off. The story gives very little space to extreme voices or to those who want to politicize everything into simplistic, black and white answers.        

This work is proof that there is an audience for long-form narrative. It is evidence that a commercial station and publisher can educate and reflect on our lives, a space mostly reserved for public broadcasting and monthly magazines. This work shows that there is an alternative to the journalism that mostly focuses on what is wrong with our cities, which may sound like a civic function, and can be, but too often serves to tear us apart and exploits the woundedness of modern life.

Here is the link: http://www.wcpo.com/dpp/news/news_archives/ten-years-later-a-changed-city-documentary. Disclosure: I am in it. It is not perfect, but it speaks to the possibility of our urban centers and also to the possibility that those who tell the story of our cities can make them better simply by the intelligence of how they tell that story.

Let’s hope that the work of Brandi Smith, the E.W. Scripps Company and WCPO Channel 9 is a sign of another form of “new” journalism, one that cares more about content than the “media” and discovers there are more powerful stories than racing to a tragedy and asking someone whose house has just burned, “How do you feel?”

~ Peter ~