When Brennan Donnellan, news director at WLWT, a Hearst-Argyle-owned NBC affiliate in Cincinnati, came to understand the depth of Ohio's mortgage problem, he was stunned. He knew Ohio had at one point the most foreclosures of any state in the nation, but when a local organization called The Home Ownership Center showed him how bad things really were by the numbers—6,000 foreclosures in their home base of Hamilton County alone—he knew the station had to take action.
“They showed me some fairly stark statistics and said they wanted to do a major effort to help,” Donnellan says. “We thought it would be a natural partnership that would be good for our viewers.”
A plan was put in place quickly. On June 4, The Home Ownership Center brought in Fannie Mae and other local institutions to provide counseling, local public station WCET provided phone banks and volunteers to take the calls, and WLWT took the responsibility for coordinating the media effort and shining the spotlight on the deeply troubling national issue.
The station did a news story tied to the real estate crisis every day leading up to the event, and then a continuous on-screen crawl and multiple live reports from the phone banks during the day itself.
“We got it all set up in a week and a half,” Donnellan says of the event. “We wanted to provide information in a very structured way, and help people get answers and get into the system immediately so they could keep their homes, or go through the process as gracefully as possible.”
Donnellan says this is something any station in any market could replicate simply by calling their local equivalent of The Home Ownership Center.
The impact was felt immediately: More than 1,000 people called in that day.
And the station has continued to get feedback afterward, often from people who had already taken those first steps “but were anxious to share their stories,” Donnellan explains.
“They'd say, 'You think that's bad, well….'”As a result, Donnellan is keeping the foreclosure story front and center: “We have done follow-up stories and we'll continue to do that.”