By: M.L. Stein
ALARMED THAT THE media are presenting an unbalanced picture of gang violence, San Diego Mayor Susan Golding called a meeting of newspaper, television and radio executives to discuss the issue.
“The meeting was not for the purpose of telling the media how to cover gangs,” said Golding’s communications director, Dan McAllister.
The idea, he explained, was to bring the news officials together with law enforcement officials and community people who are in charge of anti-gang programs “so there will be some kind of dialogue and a better balance in coverage.”
McAllister said Golding was concerned at the escalation of gang violence in the city and the danger of the media glorifying gangs.
“Whenever the print or broadcast media publish the names of certain gangs it becomes a recruiting tool to bring in more gang members,” McAllister continued. “Gang members are going out with these stories and and saying to the kids, ‘See, we’re the right gang for you.’ “
McAllister called the meeting a first step in producing more understanding of the gang issue.
“There are some positive programs going on but they don’t make the headlines like the shootings and other negative things,” he added.
Among the 20 news chiefs who attended the session was San Diego Union-Tribune editor Gerald L. Warren, who told E&P that he did not believe that Golding had a “blame the messenger” agenda.
“Actually, it was quite informative,” Warren recalled. “We met people who are working on the gang problem. Some of them thought we could do a more balanced job of covering gangs. I thought the message was more for the electronic media than for us, but I took away a few ideas on how we can improve our coverage.”
Another participant in the discussion was former football star Jim Brown, who has become an activist in programs to wean youngsters away from gangs.
Jim Holtzman, news director for KFMB-Channel 8, told the Union-Tribune after the meeting: “We’ll still do stories in reaction to gang violence. There’s just no way we won’t.”
However, he urged those who work with gangs to tell the media about positive stories they feel should be covered.
The U-T also quoted Rachel Ortiz, executive director of Barrio Station, a youth service group, as saying she understands the media’s need to cover legitimate news, but she thought some news organizations overplay gang-related stories.
“I know you are going to cover some things and that’s fine,” Ortiz said, “but it goes on and on. That’s where the glamorization comes in. When [a story is] dead and stinking, move on.”