Young Black Men Ask Milwaukee Media: Why Do You Cover Us The Way You Do?

Mar 2, 2018

Why aren’t there more positive portrayals of black men in the news? That’s the question 18-year-old Terrance Robinson, 14-year-old Victor Barnett Jr., 17-year-old Darius Simmons and 16-year-old Ashanti Travers posed to WUWM’s Bubbler Talk.

In order to attempt to answer this question, I had to enlist a few media professionals.

WUWM’s news director Ann-Elise Henzl; Jabril Faraj, reporter for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service; and Benjamin Hart, news director for WISN gathered at Running Rebels in Milwaukee to talk with the young men.

Benjamin Hart kicked the conversation off by saying, the portrayals seen on the news don’t have much to do with race.

“If you look at just the percentages of population, 42 percent of the population of our viewing area is in Milwaukee County. So what we do is we look at the things that are happening in Milwaukee County first. We look at the things that are happening in the neighborhoods of the people in Milwaukee County first as we start to branch out into what it is people are going to be interested in,” he explains.

Hart says for example...

“If there were a fire in your neighborhood and a house exploded, you’d really want to know how that happened because it happened in your neighborhood. You’d want to now specifically whether your house maybe prone to a fire or explosion. Two things are at play here. What’s happening percentage wise…it’s not just a color thing, it’s a numbers thing.”

Still, Hart admits that there are a number of crime stories that appear in the news on any given day.

For his part, Jabril Faraj says the media often does what’s easy. And here, that means crime stories that often showcase people of color in a negative light.

“Someone who has no kind of connection within these communities and what’s actually happening can see a fire or can see shooting or can see a reckless driving accident and jump in there and do a quick piece and then leave,” he says.

Faraj also says there are a lot of lazy journalists, meaning people who don’t dig a bit deeper or sometimes don’t even bother to get people’s names.  

And, he says while it’s true that the reality of the news business these days is fewer people doing more stories and that in many cases here, the people in the newsroom don’t look like the people they are covering -- there are no excuses.

“So what’s the mission of your newsroom?”

That question was next on the list for 18-year-old Terrence Robinson.

Ann-Elise Henzl says WUWM’s goal is report holistically on every population here to give people a better understanding.

“Not just the bad things that are happening but a broader perspective of the community to try to connect our listeners with the people who they live with and to try to represent every population in a fair manner,” she explains.

Henzl says one way the station is doing this is by hiring beat reports to focus on areas such as the environment and education and race and ethnicity.

The Running Rebels youth stress that what is seen, heard and read in the news can have an immediate impact on people.

“We feel like the news stations showing all this negativity gives immediate impact. I remember speaking to a fifth grader and asked them what they want to do in life, they told me go on a high speed chase. I asked him why and he said it’s because he sees it a lot so he thinks it’s cool," Robinson shares. "How can your news station and other news stations or radio stations use the concept of immediate impact to change a narrative and to give hope to some young African American people?”

Hart says that while he agrees that news can have an immediate impact, he also says people tend to only remember the negative no matter how many positive stories may appear.

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