One Murrow-winning station dares to be part of the solution

May 28, 2018 11:00

“Newsrooms are used to covering crime. Rarely, do they take steps to fix it.

We dare to be different.”

That’s how KARK/FOX16 News Director Austin Kellerman describes his stations’ Murrow Award-winning Victory Over Violence project.

The award earned was Excellence in Social Media for a series of Facebook Live broadcasts, but the larger project itself is about so much more. We asked Kellerman to tell us about how his newsroom decided to be part of the solution to a community problem: skyrocketing violent crime.
 
What was the impetus for deciding to reframe what could have just been a standard crime series?

We all do crime stories all the time. In this case, we took a look at the layers of the issue and impact in Little Rock, but we didn’t want it to get lost in the shuffle of normal storytelling. We first discussed breaking it into multiple parts on the web – and then decided to turn each “character” into his/her own Facebook Live broadcast where we’d discuss that person’s background and dive a little deeper into the issues.
 

What is this project’s relationships with other anti-violence programs in the community? Did they inspire your project, vice versa, or some of each?

Th[e Facebook Live series] is a small component of a larger campaign we put together called Victory Over Violence. There are a number of amazing groups doing excellent work in the fight against violence in Little Rock.  We looked at this as an opportunity to bring those groups and efforts together under a single campaign.  Over the last year, we’ve connected with more than 100 organizations in town.  In addition to doing stories to empower those groups, we help promote their events and initiatives.

 
This is well beyond the very traditional “just the facts, man” journalism that says journalists doesn’t get involved in stories. How did you get the newsroom on board with that? Was it natural or was there any pushback?

I haven’t shared this story beyond the wall of our station, but this seems like an appropriate time.  At the end of 2016, 2-year-old Ramiya Reed was shot and killed – a victim of crossfire.  You could tell the story really affected people in the newsroom.  At the same time, our general manager allotted a large amount of money to our newsroom for Christmas gifts/trinkets.  We tossed around the idea of what to get – and collectively came up with donating the money to help pay for the child’s funeral.  Shortly thereafter, another child – 3-year-old Acen King – was killed.  It was at that point we committed to doing something bigger in hopes of this not happening again.  As journalists, we have an amazing platform for good.  We try to do it through our storytelling, but we can offer much more to the communities we serve.  In this case, wee spent a couple months planning, researching, and bringing in experts in that area.  We launched the effort in February 2017.
 
 
This project received the Murrow Award for social media. Did you approach the social media strategy for this project any differently than your newsroom’s day-to-day social media strategy?

This is more about using social media to connect people with resources – and help others understand the root of the issues.  We’ve used social media to recruit mentors for children, offer anti-bullying seminars, and even send people free gun locks.  We’re committed to using it as a solution-based tool.

 
What has been the community response so far? Are there any indications of a change in crime stats?

The response from the impacted communities has been overwhelming.  We’ve had elected officials, city leaders, school administrators, and area police departments jump aboard.  Towards the end of 2017, we saw the city’s homicide rate slow.  The trend has continued into 2018.  However, the issues remain – and there’s much work to be done.

The mission of the Victory Over Violence campaign is to "cover crime in a responsible manner focusing on impact, response and solutions.  Victory Over Violence aims to unite community groups and leaders and be a resource for reducing violent crime and changing lives through improvements in education, jobs, mentoring and hunger." Learn more and see some stories from the project here.
See more in our series going behind-the-scenes of Murrow Award-winning journalism here.