Community Concern

Compassion is high on station groups' dockets

Scripps: A stay-in-school push in Detroit

For 28 years, Scripps' WXYZ Detroit has encouraged kids to stay in school by profiling and paying tribute to some of the top students in the state.

The station annually honors valedictorians from 250 high schools in surrounding southeastern Michigan through its “Brightest and Best” campaign.

“We get tremendous feedback,” says WXYZ President/General Manager Grace Gilchrist. “People tell us, 'We never see good young people on television.'”

Each spring, WXYZ invites the valedictorians and their families to the station for a luncheon ceremony. The students wear their caps and gowns, each in their school colors, and gather for a group video of them tossing their mortarboards. Station producers interview students and run brief pieces about them all summer.

“Educators tell us this is one of the greatest things we can do because there's a kid from every high school in the region,” says Gilchrist. “That sends a message to kids. They think, 'Hey, if they made it out of my school, I can, too.'”

Adds Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan, “These valedictorians are demonstrating that Michigan students can meet the challenge of higher standards.”

Young's KELO: Focus on kids literacy

Each year, executives from Young Broadcasting's KELO Sioux Falls, S.D., select one critical need for their annual “Tradition of Caring” campaign. In 2006, that issue was children's literacy.

“Sioux Falls has a high percentage of working moms,” says Gwen Kinsey, former president/general manager of KELO and current president/general manager of Young's WKRN/WATE Nashville. “Things as simple as reading to children fall by the wayside.”

To stress the importance of reading, KELO created five relevant on-air spots. The station aired the spots 10,123 times over the course of the year.

The station also teamed with retail partner Slumberland for a used-book sale. After receiving 10,000 books from viewers through its on-air campaign, the station raised $4,000, which was granted to four Sioux Falls libraries to improve their children's collections.

“We have encouraged our stations to try to make a difference,” says Young Broadcasting President Deborah McDermott. “Whether that's by focusing on one issue for an entire year, like KELO, or doing smaller campaigns throughout the year, we've found we really can make a difference.”

Gannett's KSDK: Homes for foster kids

In the wake of 9/11, Gannett's KSDK St. Louis wanted to create a campaign that would have the biggest impact on its community.

Station executives ultimately decided to find permanent homes for hard-to-place foster children, including older kids and siblings who don't want to be separated. The station began partnering with a local agency, the Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition, in fall 2002.

Kids chosen for placement accompany the station's on-air news talent to a fun location, such as the St. Louis Zoo or Gateway Arch, to have a minute-long story shot about them. After the station airs the story three times in one week, potential parents can either click on the “A Place To Call Home” link at or call the coalition to express an interest and start the adoption process.

In five years, the station has seen more than half the featured children find homes, including a sibling group of nine who stayed together.

“A Place To Call Home offers the most basic human need: a permanent home,” says KSDK President/General Manager Lynn Beall. “It offers a positive future for children who may otherwise have nothing.”

Hearst-Argyle: Katrina awareness

When Katrina's wrath swept through New Orleans in August 2005, WDSU, a Hearst-Argyle station, found it had many stories to tell. Those stories have led to greater awareness of the tragedy and help for the community.

They also inspired two intimate documentaries. Song of New Orleans views the city through the eyes of the aptly named Rebirth Brass Band, which has become a symbol of the city since the hurricane. Hearst-Argyle VP of Programming Emerson Coleman first saw Rebirth years ago at the famed New Orleans club Tipitina's. When it came time to chronicle the city's rebuilding efforts, he turned to the group.

Seven Days That Changed New Orleans dramatically illustrates the hell that was New Orleans after the storm. Station photographers kept the cameras rolling even as water swept away a news truck and flooded WDSU. “The footage focuses on the station and the decisions [we] had to make as events unfolded,” says Coleman.

On Katrina's first anniversary, Hearst-Argyle aired both specials across its group. The company also sold DVDs of the documentaries, with proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity and the Tipitina's Foundation.

“WDSU was involved in sharing with the world the events taking place in New Orleans,” says Coleman. “We wanted to present that footage in a compelling way.”