“Their own coverage began to contribute to what was going on in Gary.”

This story is part of our Flight Paths initiative. Produced by Willow Walsh for the Welcome Project.

Transcript for Drumbeat

The newspaper did a whole project looking at race. The executive editor at the time, Ilene Brown, decided to take one year to look at race and its impact on Northwest Indiana, looking at all of the institutions: schools, police, politics, transportation. All of those elements. And, me, being kind of, you know, basic smart-aleky reporter said, “Well, I want to look at the role that the Post Tribune played: the role of the newspaper.” Not really understanding just where that was going to go, but, figuring that if we’re going to talk about anything we should start with talking about us. So, I had to go back through actual newspaper archives and databases and LexisNexis searches, and I would count up things like how many times Richard Hatcher was mentioned in the paper. And, it was like, since he had left office, it was still well over 2,000 approaching 3,000 mentions. It seemed like it was a real fascination.

And, we had this, this little, it’s like primitive Twitter, basically; it was a column called Quickly. Where people could call into the newspaper, or they could write to the newspaper. And, people were really just starting to email even at that point. And, they would have their little comments. This was based on a project that they had in Atlanta, and, usually, people would complain about the Falcons and it was all like: traffic is bad here. But, more often than not in Northwest Indiana people would just mention race in those comments. And it would say: race, racism, racial. And, you could just count up all of those – and it just happened all of the time. And, there was one instance, in particular, where Richard Gordon Hatcher was mentioned. He was trying to get some money for his civil rights hall of fame. And, there were a number of comments in Quickly on this. Most of them were negative, most of them were: shouldn’t give him, don’t do this… whatever. But, a handful of them were positive, supporting him, or just supporting the project, or the mayor himself, the former mayor. And, the way it worked is that those comments that were negative, they ran in all the editions of the Post Tribune – the ones that were in Porter County and Lake County, in the suburbs as well as the city. The ones, and they were only a handful, but the handful that were positive and praised the mayor, those were only run in Gary. The Post Tribune would write articles about how, you know, such and such teacher, who had taught in Gary at Froebel for twenty years was leaving Gary to go to wherever. And, it’s like, I’m just thinking like why are we writing stories about people leaving the town. How is that helping anything? They were help creating their own narrative: everybody’s leaving. You know, it’s almost like: and, are you next? When are you going to leave now? Well, what about you? Where’s your house in Merrillville? Or your house in the suburbs? And, it actually helped create a drumbeat that helped empty out the city. Their own coverage began to, to contribute to what was going on in Gary.

Hold a Conversation

In addition to the questions below, please see How to use the questions for reflection.

Clarification Questions

  • Which institutions did the speaker look at when he wanted to look into the impact race had on Northwest Indiana?
  • How did the speaker do his research?
  • How many mentions did Richard Hatcher’s name have in the paper after he left office?
  • What did the Post Tribune write about teachers from Froebel?
  • What is a drumbeat and how does the speaker use it in this context?
  • How would you describe the speaker’s tone?

Interpretation Questions

  • What does the speaker mean when he says, “if we’re going to talk about anything we should start with talking about us”?
  • Why do you think the “positive” comments only ran in Gary?
  • What did the speaker means when he says, “they were help creating their own narrative”?
  • The speaker calls the Quickly column “primitive Twitter.” In what ways do you (or don’t you) see similarities between these newspaper comments and Twitter’s commenting platform?

Implication Questions

  • How would you answer when the speaker asks, “why are we writing stories about people leaving the town?”
  • When you listen to a story about how media can influence a narrative, do you feel implicated (or not) as a consumer of media?
  • How can we listen to the whole story (the history) of our city, when we learn that the media can fail to represent the full story?

Let us know how the conversation or self-reflection went. Email us or discuss the experience in our comment box.