A non-traditional approach to the difficult subject of race relations that invited viewers into the conversation at every turn. The on-line impact was impressive, the collaboration with other media was strong. The station devoted enormous resources and broke all the rules regarding the amount of broadcast time that should be devoted to a single news segment. It showed that viewers do respond to thoughtful, impactful, compelling issues - even during sweeps period.
- The Batten Award Judges
Dan Rosenheim, News Director:
"We were looking for something that we thought would be helped by having a public conversation take place about it. Something that was on people's minds. Something that was of particular relevance to the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the issues that came up was the issue of race relations.
"At KRON, we created a task force to talk about a year-long race relations project and discuss what the components ought to be: how we might approach it, what the format for our stories ought to be and, ultimately, what the consequences for our newsroom ought to be.
"For the station, the end result was 18 stories that we did over the course of the year. We began with a poll. The showpiece was a five-part series that ran in our February ratings period. It was unusual in that A) race relations is probably not a typical topic for sweeps and B) the pieces were very long. They ran in our hour-long 6 o'clock news. The first piece was 13 minutes long. The pieces averaged 10 minutes apiece during that week.
"We felt we hit a chord. The numbers were very strong - comparable to the rest of our ratings book. The qualitative response was extremely strong. We went ahead and did more than a dozen more stories during the year. They included breaking news stories that we spun off of and tried to consciously use the philosophy of civic journalism - to try to get beyond just covering the event as one polar extreme versus another, try to find a middle ground, try to provide more nuanced coverage.
"We were very pleased by the number of e-mails, letters, calls we got from people who were reacting and wanted to have a continuing conversation.
"The process isn't over. We have done an audit of our own coverage that will be the topic of a series we're going to do this year - looking at how do we do in our newscasts, how well do we represent the diversity of our area in the topics we cover, the people we interview, what stereotypes, inappropriate stereotypes, might we be fostering? And what contributions are we making.
"This taught me that there's tremendous interest in public policy issues that are often ignored in broadcast television news topics, the assumption being that you say the word public policy and people's eyes immediately glaze over.
"In reality, people are tremendously affected by, and concerned with, issues like race relations, and pollution and even, dare I say it, politics. If you can write about it, broadcast it, present it in language and ways that match up with concerns real people have, you'll definitely get a response from people."