Thursday, March 10, 2005

Headlines: Rashawn Who?

Do you remember Erica Pratt?

Put on your thinking cap—but don't cheat and begin a meta-search. Do you remember that name?

Of course you don't. Erica was the 7 year old black Philadelphia girl who was kidnapped in July 2002. You may remember that she managed to escape her captors by chewing through duct tape binding her arms and legs, breaking through a locked basement door, smashing a window, and then calling to nearby playing children for help.

You may remember or you may not, because if you blinked you missed the coverage. The summer of 2002 was "Summer of Child Kidnappings", starting with Danielle Van Dam, Elizabeth Smart and Samantha Runnion. Black children received short shrif; their names did not become household words. There was scant network attention. One of the network morning news shows lead with the story, and ran a small spot. I remember because I worked that story on the overnight.

Fast forward almost two years and the exact same thing is happening with the Rashawn Brazell murder investigation. It is not covered extensively by electronic media because most producers and assignment editors dismiss it as a routine murder/dismemberment. Unfortunately, mutilation killings are quite common; working in news you encounter so much violence, you becomse desensitized. You have to help convince media decision-makers that it is important.

So what news is newsworthy? You have to think like the exectutive producer of one the local news programs, or nets. That usually means you are probably white, middle aged and do not live in the city. During the summer of 2002 child kidnappings, I was assigned to one of the morning shows. My colleagues were almost all white, and riveted by the Elizabeth Smart case. "She could be my daughter," an older white producer told me. "She looks just like my niece," my lead producer told me at the time. (FYI, I'm not in hard news any longer, having left for the easier greener pastures of entertainment news.)

The fact remains that there are few blacks in upper management in news, especially at the nets. Pamela Thomas-Graham is the CEO of CNBC. Lynne Pitts is Senior Broadcast Producer at CBS Evening News. The senior vice president of ABC News World News, Paul Mason, is a brother; formerly he was an EP at World News Tonight. At the alphabet network, there are several other blacks on the "rim", the decision-making row of managing producers. Next door, at ABC7, there is a black executive producer, and several black producers. Can't discuss the other shops, but these are the two that I know best.

The Brazell case isn't a priority because it hasn't impacted many of those who shape the news. But it can be covered if the networks and local stations are pressed. You should call them, be very polite and ask for the assignment editor or manager. Say you'd like to see more coverage of the Brazell investigation and that you're very concerned. Thank them for their time, and that's it.

Oh—you don’t have the numbers? Here are direct lines for the newsrooms, so you can bypass receptionists.


ABC News
Fax 212-456-4292

CBS Evening News
Fax 212-975-1893