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Two years ago, Mother’s Day — in what has been called the “Southeast Side” of Iowa City — erupted in violence. At least that’s how the story goes.
Two “mob” events, consisting of people yielding – and using – bats and possibly other “weapons” took to the streets within a week. The melees have come to be known via the local press as the “Mother’s Day” riots, a symbol of disorder and ghetto culture among this part of the city, which is largely Black.
In 2010, the Broadway Street Neighborhood Center and residents started a live outdoor concert to “reclaim” Mother’s Day. The 319 Music Fest is supposed to be an entire community event, to get people to hear local bands and to mesh with neighbors who might have never had reason before to meet. The event occurred again on Saturday. Maybe 2,000 people showed up.
Sounds like a good story, right?
But what did appear in the local press instead from the weekend?
1) The Press-Citizen covered 1,000 walkers in City Park as part of an effort to raise cash for heart research, an event that was connected to the American Heart Society. The Sunday story of Saturday’s walk featured a nice photograph of a lot of white people and peppy quotes about how we all – including sorority members at the UI – can stop whatever bad things happen to hearts.
2) The Cedar Rapids Gazette covered several news stories Sunday from over the weekend, but none of them related to the largely Black Southeast Side of Iowa City as they did a couple of years ago during the “riots” there.
3) The Daily Iowan at The University of Iowa, which does not publish on the weekends, did not even mention that thousands of people had flocked to the concert at Wetherby Park on Saturday. Monday’s front page, though, did focus on the non-news of how police are enjoying a quieter downtown amidst large crowds of sometimes drunk and unruly white college kids.
Indeed, people I talked to at Saturday’s concert told me that no press or photographers had even shown up by 4:30 p.m. even though there had been food, games, music, sunshine, and families.
But none of that was covered, which leads me to the question: “What does that mean for a community when these elements of neighborhoods are all but ignored?”
First, let me say that I would rarely argue that raising money for taming heart disease is not an important effort by community members.
Yet, the ironic twist to this coverage – especially that of the Press-Citizen – is that African Americans are far more likely to have heart disease and to die of heart disease than other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., at least according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And while Blacks are more susceptible to this kind of disease, the coverage of the walking event would never lead one to believe so.
Press, in general, do a fair job of promoting community events. Indeed, the PC and the DI ran briefs to announce that the 319 concert was happening in their city.
But, we in the press do a terrible job of balancing the types of coverage we do in our communities.
As a weekend journalist for the La Crosse Tribune in La Crosse, Wisconsin, I did a ton of event coverage. And murders. And car crashes. But very little of my interest as a reporter was in the cultural meanings of the events I covered, the murders, and even the car crashes. And as a journalist I would see a blog posting such as this as being a whine-fest in which organizers or advocates say in a Snooki voice, “You didn’t cover me.”
For the most part, I would agree that anyone complaining in most of those instances about a lack of coverage are more annoying than anything else. Yet, we must still question what is selected for community coverage in local media and how those stories are selected.
Media scholarship has revealed how newsmakers create their own news in what’s been tagged “pseudo-news events,” such as press conferences and staged occurrences, of which both the 319 concert and the Heart Walk were, but who in the community questions the press in how and what it covers outside of a few letters to the editor?
We must be especially vigilant in questioning media coverage when it overtly contains such racial and class overtones as this weekend’s coverage does in that one news event presents itself as being majority white, with a strong economic spin (walkers apparently raised $95,000), while the other (the community concert) apparently never even took place.