Thanks, President Trump, but Chicago Can Use Its Media to Solve Violence on Its Own
by Steve Sewall, Chicago Civic Media
(Updated July 30) Last January President Trump boasted that if Chicago’s leaders can’t solve the city’s violence, “we’re going to solve the problem for them.”
That’s big thinking? Let’s get real.
In the six months since the president’s boast, Chicago’s violence has continued unchecked, with over 100 people shot here, 14 fatally, on the fourth of July weekend alone.
And for decades Chicago has lived with violence on a war-time scale. Twenty-five years ago Mayor Richard M. Daley gave an honest assessment: “Chicago has lost two generations of young people to gangs and drugs.”
Today, the total is three generations lost. And counting fast to four, with no measurable progress ever made towards reducing violence in all this time.
Pressure’s on. Chicago is the national poster child for violence. Violence is crippling its economy, scaring away new creators and forcing violence-weary Chicagoans to flee the city.
Yet no one in Chicago, including Mayor Emanuel, the city’s take-charge, can-do mayor, has ever come up with a plan to solve violence here.
So what can Chicago do? Plenty!
To step back and look objectively at Chicago is to realize that it has never even attempted to put to good use its two most powerful violence reduction resources.
The first is Chicago’s people. It’s their wisdom, their experience, their intelligence, their courage and their yearning for safe streets. It’s their love of family, of neighborhoods and of Sweet Home Chicago.
The second, in our media-driven society, is Chicago’s all-powerful media: its radio and TV stations, its two daily newspapers, its magazines and community newspapers, and its massive Internet resources.
When Chicago sees fit to combine these two key resources — when its media are helping its people solve violence instead of scaring them about it — Chicago’s power to solve violence becomes unstoppable.
This power will become unstoppable in prime-time public forums that give all Chicagoans (the city’s leaders included) an informed voice in making Chicago a safe place to live, work, visit and raise a family in.
It will become unstoppable in public forums that make Chicagoans and City Hall responsive and accountable to each other in the search to end violence.
And it will become profitable for media that successfully tap the largest of all large markets: the Market of the Whole of all Chicagoans and all residents of the Chicagoland region as well, since violence in Chicago bleeds heavily to its suburbs as well.
When you think about it, virtually any media format can facilitate the search to end violence. Here’s one that taps the enormous vote-generating power of voter-driven Reality TV:
It’s Chicago FIXIT, a locally produced, weekly, 60-minute prime-time show modeled on Reality TV talent contests like The Voice. And here’s the thing: FIXIT is governed by rules and rewards designed to bring out the best in Chicagoans, not the worst, as so often happens in media.
FIXIT rules are enforced by mechanisms — referees, instant replay and expert commentary — that give it the same respect and trust that sports fans give to telecasts of college and pro sports contests.
FIXIT appears on your TV or device screen with all the bells and whistles of a well-produced reality TV show. It’s moderated by a charismatic, judicious, well-informed, straight-talking host.
FIXIT begins by inviting all Chicagoans to participate in an eight-month search for solutions for best ways — large and small, local and citywide — to make Chicago safe.
It’s structured, NCAA March Madness style, as a tournament with four two-month phases.
Phase I is a citywide talent search to select 32 talented four-member teams of problem-solvers: a researcher, a spokesman, a film maker and an idea person.
Team members can be any mix of policy makers, academics, attorneys, retired judges, businessmen, social workers, community leaders, ex-offenders, gang members and especially the young people who are the primary the victims and perpetrators of violence.
Each team develops its own solution to any or all of the well-known aspects of violence: gun violence, gang membership, drug use and dealing, racism, joblessness, substandard schools, poverty and police/community relations.
Phase II pits 32 selected teams in an elimination contest leading to Phase III, a Sweet 16 round that leads to Phase IV: an Elite Eight search for a Best Team and a Best Solution to be submitted to City Hall on a strictly advisory, non-binding basis.
Solutions developed during these four phases are subjected to constant, rigorous vetting by panels of citizens, experts and public officials.
Teams are evaluated and rewarded on the basis of their ability to cooperate as well as compete with each other. Cooperate? Absolutely, because FIXIT rules reward teams that listen to and learn from each other — and everyone (including gang members) involved in violence.
Now imagine all Chicago media discussing, reporting on and participating in this historic FIXIT search, much as they do with Chicago’s sports teams. Here’s an overview of FIXIT features:
1. Excitement and Outcomes. FIXIT is a rule-governed, action-packed, solution-generating battle of ideas. With it, any city can examine any problem from all angles and devise any number of solutions that earn both public and political support. FIXIT stands or falls on its ability to produce demonstrable, tangible results that earn public respect and trust.
2. Rules and Limited Clout. As in TV sports broadcasts, instant replay verifies FIXIT rule infractions such as false allegations, dishonesty and poor listening. Fact-checking is instant. Although a FIXIT point-scoring system rates teams and solutions alike, winning solutions are decided by weekly votes of the viewing audience.
3. Inclusiveness and Communication. FIXIT taps deep into the knowledge of policy makers and citizens of all ages and backgrounds. It gets citizens thinking and working together. It serves as a training ground for the next generation of political leaders. It strengthens the public mind.
4. Safety and Purpose. To protect participants and the public, FIXIT programs are taped and edited for delayed broadcast. Even when participants expose instances of public corruption, FIXIT rules keep the show focused on its mission, which is to find solutions, not find fault.
5. Celebrations and Pride. Fully realized, FIXIT generates audiences comparable to those that watch sports telecasts. Chicagoans respect FIXIT and take pride in it. And they celebrate FIXIT victories as they celebrate their winning sports teams.
By tapping deep into the strengths of Chicago’s people, FIXIT empowers Mayor Emanuel to tell President Trump that Chicago, on its own, is addressing violence in profoundly constructive ways that can readily be replicated in other cities.
Steve Sewall, Ph.D., is a Chicago educator and media entrepreneur. Chicago FIXIT is a localized version of America’s Choice, his 2006 treatment for politically themed reality TV. See also ChicagoCivicMedia.com.