Terry Meiners is not a journalist. His afternoon radio show on WHAS 84-AM consists of skits with “the Beasman” about UK basketball and interviews with politicians, filling space between news and weather segments.
But the Waterfront Park violence of March 22 struck a nerve with Meiners, who has emerged as the one media voice asking tough questions about the story on a daily basis. He’s been harping on the importance of fatherhood, punishing the guilty, and focusing on the city’s response to mobs of youths victimizing innocent citizens.
Every day this week, he’s hosted guests from the African-American community, from Christopher 2X to Metro Councilman David James to University of Louisville professor Ricky Jones and others. The topic: What to do about kids who “wander around aimlessly with violent intentions.”
Is the mainstream media doing its job covering the story? Not in Meiners’ opinion. “They’re doing press release journalism,” he says. “No one is drilling down into this issue.”
With some exceptions, I agree. Local TV stations have reported the story from the point of view of the police, the mayor and some victims. They were present for the Sunday walk across the Big Four Bridge. They’ve covered meetings in the West End, held for the purpose of discussing the crisis. They have published maps and covered the mini-crisis of how crime mapping technology employed by Metro Government may have under-reported Waterfront Park crime.
WFPL-FM’s Jacob Ryan interviewed 25-year-old Young Commercial, described as “a local hip-hop DJ,” who was highly critical of the mayor’s response to the violence. He said the $227,000 spent on security cameras could have been better spent. It’s the most insightful piece I’ve seen in local media giving the viewpoint of a young person in the West End.
And he pointed out what has become known since the incidents — that the problem was not an isolated case.
There was a strong editorial from The Courier-Journal pointing out the fact that some people are still scared to come downtown, and stories about violent youth attacking innocent victims will only keep them away. And WDRB’s Bill Lamb, usually first to the scene with a pointed view, opened his comments on the topic by saying “I’ve thought about this all week and the truth is, it’s hard to know what to say.”
On Meiners’ show, the DJ has pointed fingers, first at parents for neglecting their children and at JCPS for loosening discipline. Only Meiners, on his blog, published an email from the public protection coordinator at Louisville Metro Youth Detention Center, who urges police to send kids caught in the midst of “street crimes” to a YMCA Safe Place to be retrieved by their parents, rather than arrested.
In its weekly poll, Business First asked its readers, “Are you more concerned about safety downtown following the recent youth violence incident?” As of April 4, the result showed 80 percent were.
Mayor Fischer knows he’s facing perhaps the biggest crisis of his term. On March 26, he interrupted a talk on energy to discuss at length the city’s response to the problem, even though no media were present. That night, he went down to WDRB-TV to appear on its nightly news. On April 2, he met with Business First’s board to discuss the issue, pointing out the risk to the city’s economic development future if downtown becomes known for crime.
The Waterfront Park story has the potential to divide the city, and like it or not, it’s about race. And that makes it a story people want to discuss.
“It’s one of the most talked about issues ever on my show,” said Meiners, who’s been at WHAS since 1985. He said a piece he wrote on his HeyTerry.com blog has been shared 4,000 times.
It’s not been two weeks since the incidents of March 22. The story’s aftermath will have long-lasting effects on downtown’s future, on economic development, on Louisville’s reputation nationally (the story did get some national attention, including on Fox News, under the sensational headline: “Mobs of teens terrorize downtown Louisville”).
I’m not sure how local media could under-report such a complex story, how the locals fell in line with “press release” journalism, but they have. If the issues that came to the surface March 22 existed before then, how hasn’t there been a “sweeps” investigation of downtown violence?
Well, I guarantee there will be in May.