Radio personality Eric Von focused on the city’s lack of media justice Wednesday, when he addressed a group of students at UWM as a guest speaker in the University’s Union.
Center of conference room overlooking Spaights Plaza, Von explained how hard it is for blacks to get into the journalism field; media employers look for prototypical white males, people who are “kind looking.”
Von explained how this was even a bigger factor when he spent time living in Arizona.
“They’re selling sunshine and beauty in Phoenix, and I don’t need a suntan,” Von joked in light of the serious matter. “The majority of people on the news in Arizona are white … The inability to provide openings for blacks everywhere is a problem.”
This trend of discrimination isn’t only linked to the media career field according to Von, it directly relates to crime coverage and minority depictions in the news – a big Milwaukee issue Von’s words.
Von currently is the host of Morning Magazine and has been a member of the media for more than 25 years. Roughly 30 people attended the 11 a.m. event sponsored by the Minority Media Association (MMA).
William Garrett, a student at the event, believes a voice like Von’s is important, because of the different insights he shows and how he can reach out to certain members of the community.
“Von’s radio program in majority is heard by a frustrated, disenfranchised sector of Milwaukee that feels they don’t have a voice … He gives them a forum to let their voices be heard. The Journal Sentinel, Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling are often accused of being the complete opposite,” he said.
Von discussed how the media “portrays certain stories with ease” if they hadn’t occurred in the inner city. Two dead bodies were found in Mequon, a suburb about 20 miles from Milwaukee, on Tuesday. Von explained how differently the story was approached.
“They were investigating the scene with the lights off, as opposed to the inner city where people are out banging on doors. They don’t take that kind of care in urban settings.”
An African-American man sitting in the front row of conference room presented some provocative questions for Von and seemed very concerned with the way blacks are exposed in the news and the effects it may have on the black youth.
Von said the effect cannot be good and that the issue of media justice is far from resolved. There is a “disproportionate amount of crime that takes place in the inner city” and news is addressed differently in the metro area.
Issues like media justice and discrimination are why Von feels it is important to have his talk show Morning Magazine, which airs on 1290 WMCS-AM.
“Once in a while, yes,” said Von when asked if the gravity of the subjects on his show is ever lighter. “By in large though, I try to deal with things that really matter to peoples’ lives.”
Radio show hosts Belling, Sykes and James T. Harris refer to some of the same issues, but they are addressed from “different perspectives,” said Von.
“There is a need to have a certain voice that I provide,” said Von. “Harris (an African-American host) doesn’t seem to be very well-grounded in the facts.”
More than radio
Von took an interesting route to radio. He’d only taken journalism courses “here and there” and actually has a degree in business administration.
Von came to Milwaukee from Washington D.C. where he began as a disc jockey. Former Packer Willie Davis worked with Von in D.C. and offered Von a job at Milwaukee Radio Alliance, which Davis owns.
Von’s work throughout his career has really aided him he said, but his work in politics helped him to be as effective as he is now.
He wrote speeches and was Tom Barrett’s Campaign Co-Director in 2003 in Barrett’s successful race for mayor of Milwaukee.
Politics were decidedly not for Von who said, “I’m happy doing what I do now.”
Minority Media Association
The MMAis a new organization to UWM and focuses on helping minorities make an impact in the world of media. President of the MMA Shakara Robinson has only been a part of the organization for a semester now but stressed how important it is to UWM.
“Diversity within journalism is very important, and that is what the MMA helps to provide,” said Robinson. “I just really like the idea of the organization and what we’ve already been able to do.”
Robinson said it was important to have someone like Von speak for the organization.
“Von is a powerful member of the black community and for a man of his caliber and his experience to come speak for us is really great.”
Tips for the future
Von provided career advice and tips in the presentation as well. Although it wasn’t his over arching theme, it may be viewed as most beneficial to some students, including:
- Get an internship as soon as possible.
- When anyone has a story to cover, take the time to walk the streets and know the facts in and out.
- Classroom training is important, but there is no alternative for what can be acquired in the “real world.”
Von made sure not to discount the importance of school but provided his own insight.
“I don’t think there is any substitute for what you learn in a classroom … but I think there is a practical function that occurs in a day-to-day world that you can only appreciate when you’re out of the classroom,” said Von.