A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

SDX Awards: TV public service, WITI Fox 6

By Quill

Fox 6’s hidden cameras caught children brutalizing a 7-year-old classmate on the playground. The station turned the boy’s plight into The Bully Project, an in-depth series and ongoing public service campaign in southeast Wisconsin.

“This story came directly from our viewers’ tips and their concern for their children,” said Fox 6 Vice President/News Director Bob Clinkingbeard. “Those parents called us to say their kids were repeatedly being beat up on their school playgrounds. We quickly learned the concerns were justified.”

The story struck a nerve with staff.

“Television investigations often stop at just pointing out problems,” said Clinkingbeard. “We saw an opportunity to be part of a solution.”

For two months the news team went undercover to explore school bullying. After the investigations, the station created The Bully Project, a program that helps children, parents and educators better understand bullying warning signs and preventative measures.

“Over the past year, WITI has worked side by side with schools to conduct comprehensive research, to facilitate bullying counseling and training and to provide resources and bullying mediation services to hundreds of schools and thousands of families in Wisconsin,” said Clinkingbeard. “Simply put, WITI’s Bully Project goes far beyond identifying a problem.”

The station worked with local schools and experts to generate a survey to provide original data for “The Bully Project.”

“Each step of the process presented unique challenges,” said general manager Chuck Steinmetz. “Getting schools to agree to participate in the survey meant weeks of face-to-face meetings and conference calls with school administrators.”

To date, nearly 14,000 students and more than 600 teachers have completed The Bully Project survey, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive survey ever conducted on school bullying.

“The Bully Project not only grabbed our viewers’ attention, it prompted them to take action,” said Steinmetz. “It has been tremendously rewarding to know The Bully Project has triggered a sense of urgency in local schools and that they have responded by creating real change.”

Local schools implemented dozens of bully-prevention programs and state lawmakers are drafting legislation that would require all schools to adopt bully-prevention policies.

“To know we’ve played a part in that is a great feeling,” said Steinmetz.

Across the United States, school districts, television stations and communities are using Fox 6’s Bully Project as a model.

“It took one television station to devote the time, resources and creativity to tackle a tough topic and turned it into compelling television,” said the judges. “It flushed out a common problem, opening it up for discussion without taking the easy road of sensationalism.”