A grassroots effort is underway in South King County to change how the area is presented in the local news. State Rep. Mia Gregerson (D-SeaTac) and Shaunie Wheeler are leading the effort by holding a series of community chat sessions.
“There are several of us that watch the media and the media is very hard on South King County,” Gregerson said. “When you Google Kent, the first three or four posts are always about rape, murder or something really negative. Something really violent.”
Both live and work in SeaTac. They describe themselves as women of color who care deeply about their community. The two are already involved in politics but are treating the community chat sessions as nonpartisan events.
“I’m a woman of color, however I do have some privilege in the fact that I work in an agency where my voice is elevated and amplified more than my community’s,” said Wheeler, the political action director for IBEW Local 77. “How do I bring them along with me?”
The most recent session was held at the Kent Regional Library and attracted a crowd of about 50 people. Six representatives from television, radio and print were on a panel to address the issue. They fielded questions on how to start the process of getting more positive stories about the community in print and on the air.
Panelists explained the challenges they face in their respective newsrooms. One of the main issues included a decline in staffing.
“We’re very receptive to telling stories of community,” said Lynn Thompson, a reporter with The Seattle Times. “You deserve attention.”
All of the panelists agreed the challenges can be overcome through the building of relationships.
“It’s critical that the community sends us tips,” KING5’s Natalie Brand said. She and the other panelists went on to offer more ways to pitch stories to reporters.
Wheeler is receptive to the advice: “How do we take accountability on getting you what you need? We can’t just blame you [the press] all the time. What do we do? Where’s our empowerment in making sure these stories are actually getting told?”
During the Q&A session, community member Susan Mason expressed concern about unequal labeling that happens in the press when someone commits a crime.
Media treat Black people and White people differently in the news. For example, a White male shooter is known as a “lone wolf,” or labeling people with criminal records as convicts even if their criminal history is unrelated to the story.
“I ask you to make a commitment to think about the language you’re using with your story,” she said.
Barbara Phillips, another community member, also attended the meeting.
In addition to being concerned about the portrayal of African-Americans, she wants to see the community do a better job of helping one another.
“We have to start addressing our issues and the community has to support our issues,” she said. “It takes a lot of work and time.”
Wheeler and Gregerson say they are ready to put in the work needed.
“Our ultimate goal is to develop leaders in our community. Building a pipeline, getting them on commissions, getting them on boards, councils, running for legislation,” Wheeler said. “This is not a one-year thing. This is not a two-year thing. This is definitely a longevity commitment. We know it starts here.”
The next community chat will take place in Tukwila with special guest Executive Director Julie Wise from King County Department of Elections. It will focus on voter registration with a focus on cultural competency.
What: South King County Community Chat
When: Sept. 24th at 4:50 p.m.
Where: Abu Bakr Islamic Center of Washington, 14101 Tukwila International Blvd, Tukwila, WA