What Really Happened? The Value of a Diverse Media Diet

By August 25, 2020Field News

                  Still from a Facebook Live stream by Nene Pollion immediately following the shooting of 20-year-old Latrell Allen by Chicago police Sunday, August 9, Courtesy of Block Club Chicago. 

First, there was a resident shot by Chicago police in the Englewood neighborhood on a simmering hot Sunday afternoon where the scene grew so tense, dozens of officers were called to the block to try to calm tempers and control the reaction.

Then on Monday, the next morning, it was reported that dozens of people flooded the city’s Magnificent Mile overnight, burglarizing high-end luxury stores, breaking windows, overwhelming police and security guards and fleeing both in cars and vans, and on foot with clothes, shoes, bags and other merchandise.

In some early media reports, the two events were linked. It would take days before the public would get a clearer picture from media reports about what went on at the separate incidents. The man shot by police, Latrell Allen, 20, wasn’t a teenager and wasn’t killed, as was first reported. Of the 43 people arrested and charged with damaging downtown and near north property, none of them appeared to be from Englewood, reports from the court hearings later revealed.

Even now, there are many lingering questions, said Brandon Pope, a journalist and on-air personality at WCIU The Jam.

“I fell asleep Sunday night on a normal night and I woke up to local news coverage that disappointed me and national news coverage that disappointed me,” said Pope, who was compelled to write an opinion piece criticizing “parachute journalism” that sensationalized the events without nuance.

“There was important context that wasn’t mentioned in early coverage, and was missing,” he said. “Some national media came in and didn’t dive deep into why – they just told you the what: ‘Chicago violence, people injured, here’s some wild video.’ We deserve something better than that.”

A goal of Field’s Media and Storytelling portfolio is to support organizations that elevate voices from Chicago’s communities that are too often overlooked and neglected. We are especially focused on ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American) voices and ALAANA-led newsrooms offering balanced perspectives and views from residents that don’t typically get interviewed or quoted.

In the aftermath of this recent major news event, like so many, I turned to the larger and more mainstream media outlets to get an idea of what was happening, in part because those outlets are easily accessible. I scrolled my Twitter feed, watching video snippets and reading the comments of both reporters and participants on the scene to try to understand it all.

Instinctively, I also checked the smaller, community-focused media organizations to make sure what I was consuming offered multiple perspectives. It’s not the first time that I’ve found I needed to expand my sources if I really wanted to understand what was taking place.

It’s reflexive for most journalists to check multiple outlets – they want to make sure they didn’t miss anything and see how the topic was approached by their colleagues. But more and more, it has become important for all of us to begin absorbing multiple community news sources if we want to understand our city, especially the voices that don’t often make it to the mainstream.

“Every (outlet) has its role. And everybody has a mission that they are trying to cover,” the Chicago Tribune’s Greg Pratt said during a recent discussion on the evolving local media landscape hosted by the City Club of Chicago. “People should be trying to read far more than they do … It’s an unfortunate trend in society where people only want to read something that confirms something they think they already know oftentimes incorrectly.”

Morgan Elise Johnson, the co-founder of The Triibe, echoed a similar sentiment.

“If we could just educate the public on how to have a media diet and how to be critical thinkers when they are consuming media that would go a long way,” she said.

The Triibe offers a counter narrative that centers Black Chicago. And because the outlet isn’t focused on breaking news, they can take the time to produce researched, longer-form reporting, she said.

“I’m all the time thinking about ‘What does my great granddaughter need to know?’ How can we frame these narratives so that they are going to be impactful generations from now? We are often looking for that niche approach to storytelling.”

There have long been conversations on how to curate a sensible media diet. In a 24-hour media cycle and with social media constantly offering appetizers, researchers and experts have warned against getting swept up in a building tide of reporting.

Time management experts have advised us to ask ourselves: Why am I consuming this news? What is the most effective way for me to consume news? Do I want to act on this news? 

I think there are additional questions we have to pose, when examining the media we consume: Who are we listening to? Who is not being heard and whose voice do I need to seek out? 

For Peter Adams, senior vice president of the News Literacy Project, a nonprofit that teaches clients how to be smart consumers of news, having a healthy local news media diet has meant layering the sources and the digital spaces he gets news from, he said.

“One mistake I think a lot of people make is to say flat out don’t get your information from social media,” he said. “That’s a broad brush because it depends on who you are following and who you are following who you trust. Facebook is not a source, but what trained journalists post is going to be more credible than what random people are posting.”

Adams reads the larger newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, he said, and he follows the television news and listens to public radio. But he said he also turns to City Bureau, Block Club Chicago, and The Triibe to make sure he’s absorbing a grassroots, community-focused view of what’s happening.

“One thing I often say is – trustworthy information doesn’t ask you to trust it, it tells you why it should. It tells you where the information is from and anything that doesn’t, you can stay skeptical about,” he said.

Emily Garcia is a sophomore journalism student who articulates it perfectly: “Just like a healthy nutritional diet calls for a variety of different foods, a healthy media diet requires you to consume a mixed bag of media,” she wrote in the Red & Black student newspaper recently.

Besides the media organizations highlighted above, here are a few other local, grassroots outlets to consider adding to your plate, including some that offer multiple languages:

Borderless Magazine

Cicero Independiente

Lumpen Radio

The Hoodoisie

The Chicago Crusader

Injustice Watch

The Invisible Institute

The Chicago Defender

Latinext/Univison

La Raza

The Chicago Reporter

N’Digo

The American Indian Center of Chicago

The Trace

Lolly Bowean
Media & Storytelling Program Officer

Field Foundation

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