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Michael Jones

Michael Jones

Posted: October 26, 2009 05:47 PM

All the News That's Fit to Print

What's Your Reaction?

On one of the always fascinating, sometimes funny, oft times racist, rarely boring, Chicago 'cop blogs' I found an appalling story: "One in Seven Girls at Robeson High are Pregnant."

It was linked to a report done by WBBM-TV.

The actual video was more startling than written words, as pregnant 15-18 year olds talked openly about the reasons for having children: a mix of finally having someone who would love them, to gaming the system for money. How sad, I thought, that lives are so empty at such an early age that love can only be expected from having a baby.

The television correspondent's questions were talk show-esque and, to some extent, cheerleading. The banter between correspondent and anchor, life style affirming and superficial, of the cheery 'how interesting' variety: So, there is daycare at the school, and parenting classes for the 'dads' as well?

The connections between these pregnancies and inner city violence unexplored. The moral, ethical, legal, and real life certainties never part of the story or discussion.

Derrion Albert, beaten to death, most likely by the children of children like these high schoolers. His murder, the reason a reporter was assigned to Robeson to interview these mothers to begin with, not part of the story. Did the reporter not know of Robert "Yummy" Sandifer, age 11, killed 15 years ago by fellow gang members to silence him about a murder he committed? Yummy and Derrion and countless others like them seeming, to the reporter, unique occurrences, no relation to "One in Seven Girls at Robeson High are Pregnant?"

No, as always, it was a far far better and safer for media to blame society collectively than anyone, individually.

Far better to cover 'anti-violence' marches, 'take back our neighborhood' demonstrations, and 'gun control' than detail the overwhelming crime statistics associated with young men from impoverished, inner city, single mother homes. You name it: incarceration rates, drop out percentages, joblessness, killing or being killed, street crime and on and on ... not part of any story following Derrion's death. Or, Yummy's for that matter.

No reporting on the realities of becoming pregnant in an inner city high school for love or money.

But, it was refreshing that a major news outlet would even do a story like this. In general they treat viewers as if they are hypersensitive six year olds who can't handle the truth. In general the media dance around stories involving minorities as if anything beyond the most banal questioning will be racially radioactive.

Funnily enough, these stories allowed comments at the end from nonprofessional journalists. You know, just common folk, not formally trained in the profession of journalism. In their comments, they asked the kind of questions that you would think that anyone would ask if reporting a story.

In the case of the Robeson High story, things like: who what when and where? As in how many other high schools in Chicago have pregnancy rates like Robeson? For how many generations has this been going on? What do you mean you are having babies to get paid? How much? According to the cop blog, each of these girls will cost taxpayers $100,000 a year for their decision. Really? Isn't that a story? Who pays for daycare, and 'parenting classes for the 'dad?' How many 'dads' attend as a percentage of the pregnancies? And, what happens to these kids of kids?

Questions unasked or reported by real reporters, logically asked by readers.

Hey, why not report and give some context? Maybe, knowing more, rather than perpetuating ruined lives and crime victims, we can decide how to make lives so worthwhile that young girls value themselves beyond being only loved by children. By reporting the facts, beyond marches, we can, as a society, stop what is really causing young inner city girls to believe that their economic worth extends no further than child assistance checks.

By not reporting or giving context to stories such as these, the media is shown to be meretricious and almost irrelevant. The obvious picking and choosing of what to report and how to report it has trained an ever smaller paying audience not to trust what they read and see, but to go elsewhere for information.

I had to find the story of Robeson High on an obscure cop blog. I found the statistic startling and appalling but it did not elicit interest by other media. It didn't make the New York Times or the Washington Post or the national nightly news. The horrific death of a young black man, killed by other young black men, made headlines around the world. The video of the incident instantly went viral. But the deeper story that most likely the murderers and the murdered were brought into this world by girls like the Robeson girls, mere girls, the children of girls, who in their turn were most likely the children of girls, did not rise to being 'news.'

It was 'news' to me, and perhaps to you.

I have a simple plan for newspapers to recapture readers and television news to recapture viewers: tell us the truth, the whole truth, give us context, and investigate beyond demonstrations and marches. Treat us like citizens we can handle it.

N.B.: WBBM-TV did a follow up on how many fathers were participating in parenting classes at Robeson, because of 'viewer comments.' You can see both reports.