Elevating the Voices of Chicago's Diverse Communities

Daniel Hautzinger
Brandis Friedman and Hugo Balta
Brandis Friedman and Hugo Balta

Chicago Tonight: Latino Voices airs Saturdays at 6:00 pm beginning September 12. Chicago Tonight: Black Voices airs Sundays at 6:00 pm beginning September 13. Both are available to stream at the time of airing.

Chicago is roughly one-third Black, one-third Latino, and one-third white. And yet most major media coverage of the city is mainstream-focused, which can often mean white. Businesses or people in places like Wicker Park, Andersonville, or River North are profiled, while predominantly Black or Latino neighborhoods like Englewood or Little Village tend to appear only when a negative event occurs—a study by the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Media Engagement found that Chicago’s “West and South Side residents were more likely to see coverage of their neighborhoods as too negative…than were North/Downtown residents.”

“Our attention is often turned to these communities in a reactionary way, because of a crisis,” says Chicago Tonight co-anchor Brandis Friedman. “We’re going to actually focus on these communities in a thoughtful way.”

Friedman is the host of the new Chicago Tonight: Black Voices, which launches alongside Chicago Tonight: Latino Voices on Sunday, September 13 and Saturday, September 12, respectively. Latino Voices will be hosted by Hugo Balta, News Director for WTTW News and Executive Producer of Chicago Tonight.

Chicago Tonight: Voices is building on a philosophy of fulfilling our journalism responsibility in producing coverage that’s fair and accurate, on a foundation of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Balta says. “Latino Voices continues that mission, that focus. We are looking to shed light on issues that are most important to Latinos in Chicago, as well as lend them our platform to elevate their voices around the opportunities and challenges that they face. But the content is really for all members of Chicago's diverse communities.”

The two new programs will offer a format similar to Chicago Tonight, with panel discussions, one-on-one interviews with newsmakers, feature stories focusing on arts and entrepreneurship, and the voices of everyday people—but focused on issues pertinent to the Black and Latino communities.

“One thing that we have learned while reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic is that you need to get on the ground in neighborhoods across the city to see how they are doing and how they are managing,” says Friedman. “With Chicago Tonight: Black Voices, I’m hoping that members of the Black community feel like their voices are heard and that their concerns are aired.”

Balta echoes the importance of being in the neighborhoods, especially in the case of Chicago’s Latino community. “When we say Latino in Chicago, it's not a monolithic group,” he says. “There are differences beginning with nationality or where a person traces their roots. For some, as in Humboldt Park, that is primarily Puerto Rican, but when we’re in Pilsen or Little Village, the community is often Mexican, Central American. We will certainly be mindful in speaking to how people self-describe, and specific opportunities and challenges within the Latino community as it pertains to Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and other Latinos in the community.”

Brandis Friedman on Chicago Tonight: Black Voices“With 'Chicago Tonight: Black Voices,' I’m hoping that members of the Black community feel like their voices are heard and that their concerns are aired,” says host Brandis Friedman.

In addition to the two new shows, Friedman and Balta will also be leading a monthly “Community Conversation” engaging with the public about topics featured on Chicago Tonight: Voices. “The idea is to hear from the community so that the show includes them—and not just the Black or Latino community— and we are engaging with members of the community so that we know what they're saying,” explains Friedman.

The Community Conversations will take place on the last Monday of every month. The first, taking place virtually on August 31, will feature both Balta and Friedman and offer a behind-the-scenes look at the upcoming shows. Balta and Friedman will then alternate as host.

While Chicago Tonight: Voices will focus on topics of particular relevance to the Black and Latino communities, both programs are of interest to anyone who cares about Chicago. “Latino Voices is for all members of Chicago, whether you're Latino or not,” Balta emphasizes. “You just need to have an interest in the opportunities and challenges that this particular community is facing.”

Friedman agrees. “I'm hoping that any community, of any racial ethnicity, can watch the show and have a feel for what the Black experience in Chicago is like.” In addition to hosting, she is also “kind of steering the ship right now” for Black Voices. “It's an honor, obviously, and I'm extremely excited about the opportunity. It also feels a little heavy, because I feel like I have a lot of responsibility as a journalist, but also as a Black person, and a Chicagoan. I can’t think of a television show that is on air in Chicago that is dedicated to or specific to the Black voice, the Black community.”

Balta is a two-time president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and so has been on the front line of battles for better representation of marginalized communities in media. “Both communities have fought for years—I can attest to that in my work with NAHJ, but also in partnership with other journalism organizations that represent other marginalized communities—in demanding better representation and inclusivity of those communities and their voices,” he says.

“So the fact that WTTW News is investing in a time of great disinvestment in the media industry really is testament to our commitment to better serve these marginalized communities, and all communities in Chicago. And I think it's needed now more than ever, especially in these times of uncertainty driven by COVID-19, in conversations about inequities happening in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, and as we're walking towards a presidential election that already is proving to be seismic in regard to the importance of the outcome of the election and shaping the future of our country.

“We wanted to be sure that we were investing our resources to be able to lead the conversations that are being had about the future of our city.”

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