A Snapshot of Media and Information in North Omaha

In June 2017, two journalists who work for the international news non-profit, Internews, started a project called  from The Listening Post Collective. They spoke with a number of community stakeholders to develop an in-depth report analyzing the information flow throughout the northeast part of our city. This report called, North Omaha Information Ecosystem Assessment, was compiled to share insights from stakeholders in North Omaha about how the city’s black community is covered and informed by local media, and to provide a snapshot of media and information flow in the city. Check out the full report to read the complete assessment.

Following the completion of the information ecosystem assessment, a grant of $25,000 was made available for an initiative that could begin to address the disparities, challenges, and possible solutions noted by the visiting journalists and community stakeholders. In response, representatives of the Omaha Star, 101.3 Mind and Soul Radio, Mildred D. Brown Memorial Study Center, The Reader, and local communicator Dawaune Hayes came together to apply for the grant. Upon acceptance of the proposal, North Omaha Information Support Everyone (NOISE) was formed.

In this report, we will evaluate pieces of the assessment as it relates to interviews from community members. Schmeeka Grayer-Simpson, NOISE reporter, spoke with Barry Thomas and his wife Sherrie Thomas who shared their thoughts about local news concerning the community.

Barry told us, “Through my profession, I get a lot of information about schools and the school district. I work for OPS so I get a lot of information about the school board just because I’m in the district...For more local information outside of the school district, I know a number of individuals that are either in elected positions or very well connected to topics and interests that I’m worried about. Those are the individuals that I call or text or say ‘Hey what’s going on with this?’ or ‘I heard this,’ and they kind of give me some feedback on that."

Barry realizes that his ability to go directly to the people that are “in the know" and access to this information that answers his questions isn’t an experience most people in North Omaha share.

According to the Information Ecosystem Assessment, its analysis revealed that the North Omaha community is not always properly served with accurate and reliable information as it pertains to its residents through local news.

North Omaha, where the city's approximately 60,000 black residents live, is underserved in terms of regular insightful coverage relevant to the experiences of black residents especially concerning information gaps in North Omaha around:

  • systemic education issues including high suspension rates

  • issues about local government such as poor civics education in the area, cited as reason for low voter turnout

  • coverage of issues relevant to daily life such as poor road conditions and other infrastructure issues

  • the investigation and explanation into why the aforementioned issues happen more often in North Omaha than the rest of the city.

Sherrie said that due to her profession within the Omaha Police Department, she is able to access updates and press releases. But this isn’t her main source of news.

"I am a little different from my husband. I watch the local news stations, but I am also aware that there’s some times you may not get the whole story when you watch the news," she said.

Sherrie's opinion lines up with the responses of other residents.

One North Omaha native talked about how rumors can dominate the neighborhood’s narrative because locals are not connected to active, factual media covering their area. 

It was also that mainstream media coverage tends to be negative:

According to those surveyed, prominent media outlets in the city, including the Omaha World Herald, the local paper of record, and local television news stations, often limit coverage of North Omaha to violence and crime.

While people generally thought coverage of issues related to North Omaha has improved since Warren Buffett purchased the World-Herald, most felt the tendency is still to print ‘if it bleeds it leads’ type stories, focusing on violence and crime.

Others felt the news reported often lacks substance and in-depth coverage to cover the full scope of the issue. One respondent said, "Overly positive coverage can be great, but like focusing too much on crime when covering North Omaha, it doesn’t get at the specifics, and the nuances of important issues, like housing and development.”

Some attributed the media’s limited presence within the community for the lack of in-depth coverage and understanding, one person stating, “There aren’t enough reporters on the scene to have trust or a relationship with the community.” The report noted that even if a local reporter makes some meaningful connections within the community, they often move on to a different media outlet after a few years.

For Barry, he wants to see or hear about, “Anything related to banking, community development, I think education goes into community development, and anything that deals with health."

The staff at NOISE, the Omaha Star, and Mind & Soul Radio appreciate community members like Barry  and Sherrie Thomas for speaking up about the news that impacts the place they love and call home. We encourage everyone to make NOISE and let their voices be heard about the issues that affect their daily lives.

To capture people’s thoughts, the NOISE team hosts weekly happy hour listening sessions at various locations within the community to hear directly from people like you. You can find our next happy hour on our events page or any of our social media channels.

Here are a few examples of questions used to prompt discussion:

  • What is a recent news story you felt didn't get covered enough?

  • What are the topics/ issues that you would most like to contribute to and hear more about?

  • What is the best method for getting you news you can use?