New FOX 47 team focuses on neighborhood reporting

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In an era where local news is evaporating and many cities don’t have a source for local reporting at all, FOX 47 is ramping up on the ground coverage in Greater Lansing. With a new team of multimedia journalists, FOX 47’s goal with its “In Your Neighborhood” concept is to embed reporters into the different neighborhoods and regions of Greater Lansing to produce exclusive in-depth reporting.

When FOX 47’s contract with WILX News 10 was set to expire, it needed to put together a team that could produce in-house news broadcasts. FOX 47 hired director Jessie Williams, who started in local TV news with WLNS, eventually moving to WXYZ in Detroit and WTMJ in Milwaukee, to help assemble a body of reporters. With its new team ready to go, FOX 47 began airing its own original news broadcasts in January. The staff consists of four producers, a photographer/editor and 10 reporters — with plans to add two more by April.

“A new startup is not for the faint of heart. There’s a lot of work that’s gone into this and we wanted people that were excited for this opportunity,” Williams said.

Williams described having a blank canvas to work with as a rare opportunity in a shrinking industry. The strategy she’s overseeing is to essentially drop a reporter in an area of Greater Lansing and have them develop a strong relationship with its local community members. The endgame is to have that bond help produce reporting that viewers simply cannot get from national news competitors or social media.

“When you’re giving this blank slate, you really get to make meaningful decisions around how you’ll operate differently, so you’re bringing new viewers along for the ride,” Williams said. “Our value proposition is local news. That’s what people can’t get from their iPhone or national news outlets. We have to hone in on that.”

Williams said it was important for the team, which features several African-American women reporters, to reflect the diversity of Greater Lansing. The journalists on the team also have several different backgrounds within the industry — some bring more print experience to the table, while others are more familiar with television reporting.

“We’ve seen the need to be vulnerable and have perspectives in the room that bring different things to the table. We all learn that way and become better journalists that way and tell better, more well-informed stories,” Williams said.

Reporter Joe Gebhardt came aboard as part of the new FOX 47 team in January. He’s returning to the news industry after somewhat of a hiatus — his last journalism gig was with WLNS in 2015. Gebhardt’s beat is Jackson — a natural fit considering he’s already has a strong background with the city.

Gebhardt said one of the most exciting beat stories he’s covered so far was a car accident, which saw a vehicle crash into the Jackson restaurant Grand River Brewery. The driver was allegedly racing another vehicle and attempted to flee the scene by running from his wrecked car.

“I used to work there, to cover a story such as that one was life coming full circle. It really stuck out to me how crazy it was that a car crashed into such a popular establishment here in Jackson.”

Gebhardt’s job has him covering a variety of roles, as do most journalists today. “I’m my own assignment editor and camera person. You have to take on everything yourself,” he said.

Williams expects that FOX 47’s coverage will grow stronger and more in-depth as reporters grow more familiar with their beat and the Greater Lansing community begins to respond to the station’s new format.

“We’re really committed to strong community journalism. I’m really confident if you give us a little, we’ll get it right.”

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