Thursday, August 23, 2001

News execs put rivalries aside for greater cause




By Ward Bushee

Editor, The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In retrospect, we should have had a photographer present. It would have been a moment worth capturing for posterity.

        Executives from the local TV news stations as well as rival editors from The Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati Post sat across from each other. These people battle daily for ratings and readership.

Bushee
Bushee
        This has never happened before.

        The occasion Tuesday afternoon in an Enquirer conference room was a meeting of the Cincinnati Media Collaborative.

        The purpose was to discuss what a collaboration of the media might mean and what it would generally do. Because a press conference already had been called for Wednesday morning, the urgency for the meeting was clear, even for people who face daily deadlines.

        Because things are developing fast, I feel some explanation is in order for our readers.

        In essence, the collaborative reflects the collective desire by many news people in Greater Cincinnati to help improve race relations. They are trying to do what they know best — to cover the news competitively and beat the other news guy. That's a good thing.

        It's a rare step for the media and it may be the largest collaborative of news organizations ever to focus on a community issue. But it would be hard to dispute that race relations in Cincinnati deserves anything but special attention from all corners, including the media.

        The power of the press to enlighten and educate is at the heart of the First Amendment. As have many media organizations, the Enquirer since January has been reporting and writing on issues that we hope have provoked thought and dialogue on race relations. In a few weeks we will publish the results from an extensive scientific survey on local racial attitudes, funded largely by a Pew Center grant, and we are helping to coordinate a series of community meetings to discuss race relations.

        The Media Collaborative fits into the Enquirer's goal of stimulating discussion and interest in improving race relations. News executives from the other outlets expressed similar goals Tuesday.

        While the collaboration will include some joint efforts to cover the same events and other ventures, one great contribution will be that it will increase the coverage of the racial divide in Greater Cincinnati.

        A possible benefit is that it will help the media themselves better understand racial issues and sensitivities. Since January, when we began to focus on strained race relations, I've learned how much I didn't know about race. So have my colleagues in the Enquirer newsroom.

        The collaborative offers more opportunity to listen and learn as we endeavor to better serve the community. The idea for the collaboration was put forth by WCET 48's President Susan Howarth. WCET is regarded by local media people as the safe house among fierce competitors because it is a public station. The station contacted every media outlet it could and asked each to participate.

        Wednesday, executives from many corners of the media stood together at a press conference — yes, this really was a press conference by the press for the press — to show support for the project.By their presence, many of them were saying that they were willing to focus on race relations over more popular programming and news content.

        The centerpiece of the collaboration is a Sept. 6 televised town hall meeting on race relations. The program is receiving wide support from the TV news stations.

        The Media Collaborative is loosely knit because the news agencies regard their independence in news gathering to be paramount. And it will be subject to cynicism and criticism because racial divisions create mistrust, including in the media.

        The media took a step into unknown territory Wednesday by telling Greater Cincinnati that they were pulling together to help bridge the racial divide.

        Ward Bushee is editor and vice president of The Cincinnati Enquirer.

       



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