The weekend’s events have the nation, and listeners, struggling for answers.
On Saturday, three were killed and many more were injured in Charlottesville, Virginia in the aftermath of violent clashes between white supremacists and counter-demonstrators. What occurred has prompted debates over the police response, free speech, antifa, the alt-right and much more.
How can community radio stations serve the public interest in this stressful time? There are many ways a community radio station can use your airwaves, website and social media presence to engage your city.
- Explore how your state leaders are responding. Michigan Radio did just that. It is a great way to help listeners understand how lawmakers are responding in the wake of the tragedy.
- Investigate the perception gap. As you get into what local politicians think, you are sure to sense divergent views of what just happened – some criticizing violence on all sides and others zeroing in on terms like terrorism. At the heart of these takes are longstanding perceptions on the right that the left instigates violence, such as in Berkeley. Among isolated quarters, there are conspiracy theories about the clashes. Furhermore there is certainly a loaded history in the use of the phrase terrorist that makes it worth discussing. How does the country bridge such stark differences, and do you see them in your own community?
- See how hate groups touch your city. The Southern Poverty Law Center has a regularly updated hate map of organizations around the United States engaged in activism classified by law enforcement as bigotry of all kinds. Maybe it is a chance to examine where your town stands on the list.
- Commit to ongoing coverage of issues in your community. St. Louis Public Radio did a year-long series following the police killing of Michael Brown. It is easy to chase the story and conversation of the moment. Perhaps your community radio station can create a series on diversity and inclusion in your region?
- Encourage context. In the aftermath of Charlottesville, it is hardest at times to get beyond convenient assumptions and to dig deeper. Talk show host Ben Shapiro, a conservative, is among those to decry failures on the left and right to this point. As in the post-election period, you help communities most by getting to the nuances.
- Make smart programming decisions. Rather than go the simple, though problematic, route of call-in programming, it will yield far greater benefits to welcome in guests who can offer a richer look at national issues. By the same token, it is also important to remind volunteer programmers about the station’s core values and to refrain from generalizations or discussions that do not contribute to the higher discourse the country needs.
Your listeners want to turn to your station for answers now. During the week’s lead up to National Radio Day on Aug. 20, community radio has a critical chance to show its relevance and power.