News Is Reaching Out to East Side Community

Margaret Sullivan, Buffalo News, November 1, 2010

Early last month, I spent a memorable–though difficult–evening at True Bethel Baptist Church on East Ferry Street, listening to an outpouring of complaints about The Buffalo News from about 700 East Side residents.

Many of them had come to vent their outrage over a recent News story that detailed the criminal records of the victims of the City Grill tragedy–the Aug. 14 shooting spree that killed four and injured four others. While some agreed that the information itself was newsworthy, almost everyone objected to its timing, coming so soon after the deaths and funerals of loved ones, and to its prominent placement on the Sunday front page.

Many of the speakers expressed raw emotion, bitterness and anger. {snip}

Others spoke of a broader, deeper problem: The News’ coverage of their community which, they believe, emphasizes crime and gangs, but does not focus on the positive, or help solve the community’s very real problems.

I can say, without exaggeration, that I left that meeting both shaken and changed. I still believe The News was right to publish the story because it exposed an important piece of the puzzle about that tragic shooting. But its timing and placement should have been handled more sensitively and more respectfully. (Those decisions were essentially mine.)

{snip}

Soon after the True Bethel meeting, I asked for volunteers in the newsroom to come up with a plan. Dozens of reporters, editors, clerks, photographers and others were quick to respond.

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Here are just a few of the things that we plan to do:

* Form a diversity advisory council to give us feedback on our coverage of minorities. The group will be made up of community members–some prominent people and some “ordinary citizens.” Editors and reporters will meet with the group quarterly. (If you’d like to be considered for a role on the council, please write to me or to Rod Watson at The News.)

* Start a speakers’ bureau to get our reporters and editors out to meet people in the community. {snip}

* Conduct diversity training in the newsroom. {snip}

* Conduct a public opinion poll to gauge perceptions of The News among members of the black community. (This was a particular request of the East Side ministers and activists.)

* Begin a regular, every other week feature in the City&Region section that highlights positive or constructive news from the East Side, or simply describes neighborhoods and community activities.

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