Domestic Violence Story Pushes Reporter Beyond Comfort Zone

Lincoln Police Officer Tu Tran responds to a domestic violence call on a recent night. (Photo courtesy of Lincoln News1011.)

Lincoln Police Officer Tu Tran responds to a domestic violence call on a recent night. (Photo courtesy of Lincoln News1011.)

By Bobby Caina Calvan | The Heartland Project

LINCOLN, Neb. — Over the summer, a video surfaced apparently showing pro football player Ray Rice hitting his fiancée. The incident put Rice and the National Football League under intense scrutiny.

The debacle also heightened public awareness about domestic violence.

Months before the Rice video came to light, I went on a ride-along with Lincoln Police Officer Tu Tran, who talked about domestic violence within Lincoln’s Vietnamese American community. Tran said that cultural and language barriers often got in the way of women stepping forward to seek help against the abusive men in their lives.

Definitely a story worth exploring.

According to a federal study, nearly 30 percent of women in the United States say they’ve been raped, physically abused or stalked — or suffered from other signs of being victims of violent behavior. They may suffer from fear or post traumatic stress disorder. They may call a crisis hotline, may need shelter, or may miss at least a day of work or school.

Some advocates say that statistic could be a conservative estimate because many other victims of domestic violence are too afraid or embarrassed to come forward. That’s especially true of women from refugee and immigrant communities who come from deeply patriarchal cultures.

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But maybe you’d think the story would best be handed off to a woman – more specifically, perhaps a female journalist of color.

I mentioned the story to the police reporter for Lincoln’s News 10/11, who happens to be a young, white guy.

The reporter, Joe McHale, didn’t shy away from the story. In fact, he turned it into a special report that ran about three minutes long.

The same could be said about his colleague Josh Kellams, who ran with a story on violence and discrimination against some in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. The stories by Kellams and McHale aired the same night.

Too often, stories about Latinos are assigned to Latino reporters. Black journalists are responsible for covering the African American communities. Asian American reporters get sent out to cover anything Asian-centric. Certainly, journalists of color might help provide insights into their respective communities – but it shouldn’t be their responsibility alone.

Reporters, regardless of their background, should cover the community in its entirety. White reporters should be just as interested – and willing – to go into a Latino neighborhood to cover a story. A good reporter should be unafraid of any story.

Indeed, editors and news directors should encourage their reporters to tackle stories that go beyond their comfort zones.

During a visit to a Nebraska newsroom some months ago, I got a chance to hear some real honesty from reporters who admitted to their trepidations about covering ethnic communities. One reporter said he wasn’t comfortable going into unfamiliar neighborhoods, or talking with people who might have a poor command of English.

But credit that reporter for knowing his shortcomings, because it’s easier to push yourself when you know the boundaries of your comfort zone.

McHale, for one, wasn’t afraid to push himself. And he got a good story out of it.