Safety group talks media coverage

February 16, 2007
By

EGLESTON SQ.—Members of the Academy/Bromley/Egleston Safety Task Force and a representative from the Boston Herald gathered to discuss how news is portrayed about those housing developments and the community in general last Wednesday afternoon, at the group’s monthly meeting at the Academy Estates on Washington Street.

Last month, daily news and television covered the unrelated killings of a 14-year-old shot on Horan Way and a 13-year-old who eventually collapsed near the Jackson Square T station. Those stories, followed by a Boston Herald editorial calling for a Boston Housing Authority (BHA) takeover of the Bromley-Heath housing development, fueled animosity amongst residents of the housing development and community who felt the reports were unbalanced and inaccurate.

This month, the task force invited reporters and editors from the Boston Herald to their monthly meeting. A Boston Herald columnist accepted and the Jamaica Plain Gazette covered the gathering.

“We are concerned about the tone of the articles,” said Joan Westbrook, a representative from the Bromley-Heath housing development in Jackson Square. “There is no balance of reporting.”

“We are concerned about the impact the media has on our community when a young child reads that their community is the worst jungle in the city,” said Mildred Hailey, community activist and director of the Tenant Management Corporation that manages Bromley-Heath.

“It’s not true that 13-year-old was murdered by Bromley-Heath. There still has not been a media retraction,” she said. “We feel if some positive things were covered in the community, people would get a chance to come and see how it really is.”

“What about the positive side?” said Robert Credle of the non-profit community development organization Urban Edge.

“I think we all have to be somewhat media-savvy,” said Boston Herald columnist Peter Gelzinis. “When a story is developed through a reporter there is a geometry to that. The reporter does not invent the story out of a whole cloth,” he said.

Gelzinis said one must be aware of things like separate agendas within the media industry.

“Positive news does not have the same impact breaking news does. I’ll tell you from someone who’s been doing this a long time,” he said, “you never get the same reaction from positive news as you do from breaking or controversial news.”

Gelzinis said people who understand how to use the media are more successful at guiding stories.

“I hate to be realistic, but you can’t always have good news. But if you have a problem don’t be afraid to get ahead of the news,” he said.

When something like a murder happens, it happens fast, Gelzinis said. So the natural instinct when the media comes is for people to back away.

He said the result is people who may not have the best information end up becoming a reporter’s source because it is the only person the reporter can find to get answers. He said newspapers should print retractions faster they then do.

Bob Francis of MassHousing said it was totally irresponsible to report the name of a 13-year-old suspect, referring to a Dec. 2 article written by Herald reporter Michelle McPhee.

“In a sense, it puts a target on a 13-year-old kid’s back,” he said. “There’s never a story about something like the positive impact kids who go through the juvenile justice system have on other kids when they come back. If there is it’s only one or two paragraphs.”

“How do you get the media to have some sort of compassion and responsibility?” said Hailey.

Gelzinis said a critical part of a journalist’s repertoire is his or her sources. He said in his reporting, when he comes across facts that collide, he trusts people he has been working with for a long time.

“As a columnist I can do that,” he said.

Gelzinis said as far as facts, the general rule is if you have the fact, you use the fact. He also said reporters must use discretion.

“Hopefully we can develop a more positive relationship,” said Francis.

“I think the beginning is right here,” said Thaddeus Miles, also of MassHousing. “This is greater than Bromley-Heath. This is greater than the police. This is about the community.”

Miles said it starts with groups of representatives who have worked hard for a long time to overcome struggles. He said these people are committed to proactive solutions in the community.

The Academy/Bromley/Egleston Safety Task Force was created around 12 years ago when the Academy Estates development negotiated with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. It meets once a month or more if needed, depending on the situation.

Because the area was in both the B-2 and E-13 police districts, community members started the task force in order to establish healthy coordination of resources between the two police stations and local residents to increase safety.

Some other programs affiliated with the task force in some way are the Bromley-Heath GED program, Academy 1 Housing Police and JP Youth Week.

E-13 Police Capt. Kelly McCormick; Sgt. Smith of B-2; Lt. Michael Shea of the Transit Police; Sgt. Bersani of the Boston Housing Police; ccommunity service officers from E-13 and B-2; and representatives from the West Roxbury and Boston Juvenile Court were also present at the meeting.