Thursday, August 23, 2001

Media join to face race issues

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Virtually all of Cincinnati's major media outlets announced Wednesday they are joining forces to present a dialogue on race relations in the Tristate.

        The effort, prompted by April's riots and called the Cincinnati Media Collaborative, involves all of the city's major television stations, radio stations and print outlets, including The Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati Post.

        “I don't see our role as telling the community what to do, but rather what we want to do is give them information and allow them to be involved in the process,” Enquirer Managing Editor Rosemary Goudreau said at a news conference.

        Forums, programming that targets race issues, and an Enquirer survey of racial attitudes in the Tristate will be highlights of the effort, which will begin in early September.

        National experts on the media and race say that the level of cooperation on such a regional scope may be unprecedented.

        “The fact that the news media has taken this on themselves is newsworthy in and of itself,” said Ohio University journalism ethics and diversity professor Michael Bugeja. “If it changes the way the media covers racial issues and if it takes the media beyond the quick quote and sound bite, that alone would be worth it.”

        Specialists on racial issues said the effort could result in honest conversations that could spur improvements in relations between blacks and whites.

        But, they warn, there are also many potential pitfalls.

        “You do it badly, and people get hurt, both physically and emotionally when you're dealing with race,” said Keith Woods. He is a faculty member who concentrates on ethics and diversity at The Poynter Institute, a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based journalism think tank.

        “And one of the biggest land mines awaiting this kind of conversation is a lack of focus that could send it spinning off into a myriad of directions — none of which lead to new ground.”

        The opening venture will be a live town-hall type forum on Sept. 6 that will be telecast from 8-9 p.m. on WCPO-TV (Channel 9), from 8-9:30 p.m. on WCET-TV (Channel 48), and simulcast on WVXU-FM (91.7), WDBZ-AM (1230) and WIZF-FM (100.9).

        After that, individual television stations will host forums every few months while gearing news content toward racial issues. Radio officials said that they hope to focus talk shows and other programming on the issues.

        The Enquirer is conducting a survey on racial attitudes in the Tristate, and plans to release the findings in a series of stories leading up to the Sept. 6 event.

        That night, there will be two live remotes in Madisonville and in Sharonville as well as the studio audience and guest panel. Organizers also hope to host multiracial “watch parties” throughout the area.

        Representatives from different outlets said competitive issues such as how to promote programs on other outlets have yet to be addressed.

        “But it's my hope that we check all our egos at the door,” said William S. Fee, WCPO vice president and general manager.

        “While we need to keep our independent voices, this is too important to not talk about.”

        Eric Ellis, a West Chester-based consultant on diversity issues who will mediate the Sept. 6 forum, said that the goal is not to get widespread agreement on the issues or create an action plan.

        “When you bring people together, no one is going to see eye-to-eye,” Mr. Ellis said. “But guess what? That's real life. The dialogue is getting people to respect each other's point of view, and taking it from there.”

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