"Harper High" Wins Peabody Award

"Harper High" Wins Peabody Award

This year's Peabody Awards include This American Life's Harper High School (featuring Chicago Public Radio's Linda Lutton and Alex Kotlowitz, among others) and PBS's 180 Days: A Year Inside a [DC] High School. Congrats to all for the much-deserved recognition. However, the celebration is necessarily bittersweet, given the difficult lives that are being chronicled in both cases. (Or, as Lutton put it on her Facebook page, "I would trade every prize in the world for them to live in a different reality.")

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  • That was good journalism. Would love to see a follow up, now that funding was decreased.

  • Linda Lutton got a lot out of her interviews with Harper students in a relatively short period of time. In some respects she got more than what I learned teaching for years at Calumet HS. I knew who in my classes were effectively gang leaders, who were the want to be gang leaders, and in some cases who was dealing pot outside of the school. I learned that one of the school’s security staff was buying crack from somebody’s brother which turned out to be true. I found out that the security guard was being blackmailed to look the other way in relation to some gang activity in the school.

    Eventually the guard was fired. I also knew who the church kids were and the kids whose parents were a mess due to drugs.
    But never once did a student admit to me having a gun or using it and Linda actually got one student on tape talking about stashing guns which was really amazing to me. But Linda has a big advantage talking to students, she is not required to enforce the discipline code or to protect other kids in the school or maybe teachers.

    I think she did a very good job along with the rest of the NPR staff on the story. But ultimately as compelling as it was, there is a certain level of voyeurism to it as there is unfortunately too much urban reporting in America. I also don’t think the voyeurism is in any way intentional in the case of the Harper story.

    In America there is a non-stop glorification of gangsterism and ghettoism that Hollywood and corporate America, pushes to make all the money they can. This has an influence on everyone, including the students in the Harper story and the NPR audience. There is even the phenomena of slum tourism in Chicago, but it is not as blatant as in other world class cities.

    National Public Radio and its local affiliates attract an audience most notably distinguished by its educational excellence and professional success. In its own marketing materials NPR states 76% of listeners are employed, 62% are college graduates, and the mean household income for an NPR listener is about $89,350. Effectively the audience is heavily composed of the movers and shakers of our society, but there is also a lot of oh my god what a disaster inner city Chicago among the audience too and reinforced fear of poor communities.

    Since the Harper program clearly proved that the poor students living in that community were themselves living in fear to such a degree that it literally transformed everything in their lives the middle class listening to the Harper program may be justified in having their fears reinforced about a poor community like Englewood.

    All in all it was a really good program and well deserved the award. Linda is a really compassionate reporter who is not cynical about poor children and adolescents, her gifts as a reporter are many.

    Rod Estvan

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