Crisis Management at Channel 2

WBBM-TV (CBS 2 Chicago) is continuing to “feel the heat” after a controversial video from a June broadcast went viral this weekend. In the video, a 4 year old boy is interviewed about violence in his neighborhood and taken out of context  when he says “I’m gon’ have me a gun.” Now, the station is evaluating its internal and external strategy in dealing with video from freelancers.

I just blogged about this in my previous post, Violence & The Chicago Media (Part 2), but a lot of  folks are reacting as if this just happened. [The report was aired on the June 29 broadcast.] What they aren’t realizing is that the video was not taken by a CBS 2 photographer–it was just edited by one of the folks at the station. According to the Poynter Institute’s Al Tompkins, Channel 2’s news director Jeff Kiernan said the video was supplier by a “stringer” (an industry term for someone who supplies video or photos of breaking news that the station can’t get to.) Usually, stringers listen to a police scanner and try to be at the scene of a shooting and sell their footage to the station. And I could tell  that the person was a stringer because he was speaking to a child so casually. A professional journalist would have never done that.

That leads me to my next point. I think that this issue is much bigger than Channel 2. I feel that all stations should evaluate their relationships with stringers. Unlike WBEZ’s Natalie Moore, people outside of the media like stringers have no knowledge of the urban communities they cover. That’s why I got involved in citizen journalism because I know the whole story about my neighborhood –which actually isn’t too far from where the 4 year old boy was interviewed. I don’t just want sensational video; I want people to know the truth about poverty in America. So, as the National Association of Black Journalists convene in Philadelphia this week, they need to realize that it’s not always about how others perceive an ethnic group but how that group perceives themselves.

Many folks might have forgotten that Channel 2 has the most African-American reporters/anchors in the city:

Harry Porterfield, Steve Baskerville, Derrick Blakely, Jim Williams, Ryan Baker, and Derrick Young (for the men)

Suzanne Le Mignot, Pam Jones, and Dorothy Tucker (for the women)

In addition to that, the station’s communications director Shawnelle Richie is African-American as well!!!

So, I definitely don’t think the station has race problems as a whole. As I’ve disclosed before, I’ve participated in the traffic tryout competition and had an opportunity to meet the station GM Bruno Cohen, as well as the morning show’s executive producer Tracy O’Brien. While I feel Ms. O’Brien should have been more careful in seeing the clip was edited better, I don’t think she told her producers and writers to be sensational. (I met some of the morning show producers and writers that day as well.)

But don’t think I’m taking sides. I’m disappointed in all parties involved. What is more disappointing, however, is those who want to use something from almost 2 months ago to promote agendas. This is not quite an NAACP issue because most of the folks upset about it don’t even watch Channel 2. Plus, what is there to be gained from this mistake? The only person(s) appearing to escape blame include(s) the 4 year old’s parent or guardian for allowing him to speak to a stranger that late at night and about a crime he probably didn’t even see

Where’s the outrage about that?

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  • The problem may not be so much the use of stringers, but apparently the breakdown of editorial standards at Channel 2.1, including their anchors "inadvertently" being used by Walter E. Smithe in their Mayor Daley sendoff commercial.

    There used to be a time when news organizations had fact checkers. Seeing an assertion that Channel 2.1 put an unverified video from a stringer on the air, and that the Tribune is now down to publishing factual inaccuracies, I guess not.

  • Great points, jack.

    Like I wrote, I'm not trying to defend Channel 2 (as some of my NABJ peers have privately accused me of doing since I published this), but I just want folks to look at the big picture.

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