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Baltimore residents and LEAP executive director Neill Franklin give their take on Baltimore’s local news coverage

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ANGEL ELLIOTT, PRODUCER: It’s a tale all too often told on your local nightly news, the tale of young men and women taken too soon, the result of violence in a city where murder seems par for the course.

But the way these stories are being told–and, most importantly, what they’re leaving out–has left some Baltimore residents disenchanted. Does local news media have a bias?

MICKEY, BALTIMORE RESIDENT: I had a friend of mine got killed last week. And you heard about it one time on the news, then you heard about it no more, no more. [incompr.] It’s a big difference. They care more about the white than they do the black.

SHERRIE JOHNSON, FMR. REPORTER: –did their hardest to try to figure out what you’re going to cover and what you’re not going to cover. And of course you want to help as many people as you can, but there’s just not enough hours in the day or enough minutes in the newscast.

MAJ. NEILL FRANKLIN, EXEC. DIR., LEAP: Media, they do their research. What draws the eyes of the viewers to their channel, to their newspaper, to their–whatever type of media they’re using? They do that research. And if it’s what bleeds that leads, then that’s what they go with.

GARY JONES, BALTIMORE RESIDENT, LATROBE HOMES: See, it’s mostly blacks here, so what do they care? You have murders going–I’ve been here for four years. I know at least five murders. And I have yet to see a camera. [The guys?] [incompr.] they got killed up there on Christmas Eve last year. Broad daylight, in the morning. No cameras.

ELLIOTT: Let’s take the story of two young men murdered within the same week in Baltimore City.

One, 14-year-old Najee Thomas, Cherry Hill resident and son of jailed Stop Snitchin’ DVD creator Ronnie Thomas. A Google search of his name produces results that state his affiliation with the infamous DVD or simply state that he was a 14-year-old boy. His murder is still under investigation.

The other victim, 17-year-old Michael Mayfield, the same search results and coverage pose a stark difference. “Community Leader” is the headline. Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts even made promises to find his murderer and offered a $2,000 reward for more information. His funeral was attended by the mayor and other city officials.

What was the difference between these two residents? How was value placed on his life and not Najee’s? By all accounts both young men were good people.

FRANKLIN: So what kind of message does that send to them? It tells this group of kids, who see themselves as this young man, in the same communities and neighborhoods, same challenges, they see their lives as being worthless.

And what happens? You know, so what do they do as a result of that? You know, they go on living as though their lives are worthless.

ANTON ELSLEY, 11, BALTIMORE RESIDENT: The ambulance goes off, nine times out of ten they head to the white people first. Like, I’m not racist or nothing, but, like, yeah.

ELLIOTT: Does media have an influence on how the police engage with the public? A recent study by The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that police see black children as less innocent and perceive them to be older than white children.

FRANKLIN: You know, police in general–and I have to admit this, even I when I was out there policing–did see black children differently than white children. Okay? We did and do see black children differently. We see them as guilty, okay, pretty much right off the bat.

And many of us have wondered, so why is that? But, you know, it is the influences that we have on a daily basis in our lives, be it the media, be it things that we read, be it conversations that we have with other people. I think the media is the one sending the message. Okay? And obviously the media is just reporting the response of the police and the response of our political leaders. Yeah, they’re reporting on that, and so we see the differences in how the two are handled, but the media also has a responsibility in, you know, how they communicate this message.

ELLIOTT: Nielsen Media Research data suggests that viewers who mainly watch the local news live in the suburbs and counties. Even armed with this information, does local news media have a responsibility to report for the demographic it serves? Or the ones who they could do a service for?

JOHNSON: Every TV station is different. Every TV station is different. Everybody has a different brand or a different goal. So it’s hard to speak for just one, you know, TV station. What–basically, you know, if their brand is live, local, late-breaking or works-for-you, then those are the kind of stories they’re going to have to go after for the audience, for the public.

Basically, the main thing is they’re looking for the stories that impact the largest audience.

RICHARD VATZ, PROF. MEDIA CRITICISM, TOWSON UNIV.: When you have consistent coverage that doesn’t look out for the general public, doesn’t look out for the threats to the general public, you have a problem.

Media should really not have a goal as to how to cover things. They ought to cover the news. And when the news is unpleasant to their values or contrary to their values, they still got to cover it.

And so I think that basically a news person does his or her job well when he’s not thinking, what is my philosophy in covering this?

ELLIOTT: Perhaps the most harmful part of the local news media’s coverage in Baltimore is the seeming disconnect they have with the city’s residents. Are they reporting what’s really happening and what matters to them?

CASSANDRA UNDERWOOD, BALTIMORE RESIDENT: Yeah, I really think they don’t come here because it’s public housing and they probably really don’t care. I mean, it’s not like we, you know, rich enough for them to be concerned about it. So I just think they don’t come here just because of the area that we live in, the crime.

ELLA BLAKELY, BALTIMORE RESIDENT: News people only put out, like, what, like, they hear by hearsay. And then they add their story in there to make a story, and it’ll be all lies. And half of the stuff, it ain’t even really true what they say.

JOHNSON: ‘Cause a lot of times the public sees one person or one face, but it’s a whole team behind that camera, it’s a whole team, it’s a whole station. There are all kinds of news managers, and they make decisions. And sometimes it may not be up to the reporter. Sometimes it may be up to management on how things are going to go.

JONES: As long as we’re in our neighborhoods and we’re not close to Towson, Pikesville, their areas, then they don’t care.

ELLIOTT: I’m Angel Elliott, reporting for The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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