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Images & Voices of Hope | December 2, 2020

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Fifth-graders’ letter to Chicago Tribune signals need for more representative coverage

Fifth-graders’ letter to Chicago Tribune signals need for more representative coverage

Two of the fifth graders who helped write an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune Damiontaye and Rondayle —  have done several radio interviews this week. Here they are talking on a recent WBEZ radio program. (Photo used with permission from teacher Linsey Rose.) 

 

 

Fifth graders from the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago have shared an important message with the Chicago Tribune: “You don’t know us.” The students wrote an op-ed for the Tribune in response to articles the paper has published about gun violence in South Shore.

In their op-ed, which the Tribune published last week, the Bradwell School of Excellence students say there’s more to the story than the media’s coverage suggests:

 

We saw your news trucks and cameras here recently and we read the articles, “Six shot in South Shore laundromat” and “Another mass shooting in Terror Town.” We saw the reporters with fancy suits in front of our laundromat. You spent less than 24 hours here, but you don’t really know us. …

Those who don’t know us think this is a poor neighborhood, with abandoned buildings everywhere, with wood covering the windows and broken doors. Those who don’t know us see the police on the corner and think that we’re all about violence and drugs. They see the candy wrappers and empty juice bottles and think that we don’t care. Uneducated, jobless and thieves. …

Those who know us look at the ones who want to go to college, not the ones who dropped out of school. If you listen, you’ll hear the laughter and the chattering from the group of girls on the corner who are best friends and really care about each other. Do you see the smile on the cashier’s face when the kids walk in? Why? Because this neighborhood is filled with love. This isn’t Chi-raq. This is home. This is us.

 

In an interview with NPR’s Scott Simon, teacher Linsey Rose explained how the media’s gun violence narrative has shaped the students’ perspectives:

“When we started working on that first part of the essay — what do you think people know about you? — the students were able to rattle off lots of the stereotypes they know about their neighborhood. But when we got to the second part, it took us awhile to think of what are the great things. I think that’s a testament to the narrative that we hear so often, and furthermore a testament to the need for the counternarrative that they wrote so that they can tell a different story of their lives and their experience.”

As Rose and the op-ed suggest, the media could be doing a better job reflecting the communities they’re covering — particularly when it comes to communities that are struggling with chronic issues like gun violence, poverty, and homelessness.

It’s important to report the “what happened” stories about crimes that have occurred in a given community. These stories keep people informed and heighten their awareness. But new research shows that repeated exposure to these types of news stories can cause acute stress symptoms — and they can make the world feel like a cold and callous place. They also ignore the good that’s taking place in a community. Journalists could strengthen their coverage by balancing out the “what happened” stories with solutions-oriented stories and/or Restorative Narratives.

Solutions stories explore credible solutions to social problems and offer insights into what’s working. Restorative Narratives are stories that show how people and communities are learning to rebuild and recover in the aftermath, or midst of, a difficult situation. These narratives can help people see what it means to be resilient and show them what’s possible. Additionally, they allow more room for nuance and accuracy by showing that a community struggling with gun violence can also be a community that’s “filled with love,” to use the fifth-graders’ expression.

Msnbc.com’s Trymaine Lee, who has covered gun violence in Chicago extensively, is a model of how to balance out the “what happened” stories with “what’s possible” stories. He does a good job putting a human face on gun violence statistics and reporting stories of hope and possibility amidst chaos.

Communities such as Chicago’s South Shore deserve more coverage like Lee’s. Ultimately, the nuanced narrative shouldn’t have to come from fifth graders.