Q&A with Marlene Harris-Taylor, Health Reporter, ideastream

Shining a Light on Great Journalism
In this occasional Byliner series, we'll connect with journalists behind winning entries in the All-Ohio Excellence in Journalism Awards. Interviews may have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q&A with Marlene Harris-Taylor, Health Reporter, ideastream

Newly installed Press Club of Cleveland board member Marlene Harris-Taylor won first place in the Radio, In-Depth Coverage category for the stories Toxic Stress and Trauma from Gun Violence Takes a Toll on Health of Cleveland Communities and Cleveland Communities Caught in Crossfire of Gun Violence Search for Solutions
Byliner: Your stories stem from the death of a 9-year-old girl killed by a stray bullet, but you said that initially, the crime didn’t get as much media attention as you might expect. Why was that?

Marlene Harris-Taylor: We were not really doing much coverage on it because, let’s face it, she's not the first young child in Cleveland who’s been killed. For some who have lived here a while it was like ‘Oh my God, another young child has been shot,’ but it wasn't like it rocked their world. But for me, as a recent transplant to town, to hear this story, it just felt like it rocked my world. It happened not too far from my neighborhood and I thought, ‘I've been there, I've been down that street where it happened,’ and also, just as a mother, the thought of your child, innocently sitting in a car, eating ice cream, and something like that happens? So, I basically came in and told my manager that I wanted to cover it. I wanted to go to the funeral. I didn't know exactly what the story was going to be, but I knew I wanted to cover it. I wanted to go to the funeral as a journalist, but also I personally felt like I was in mourning for that child, and I had never met her in my life. I wanted to be in a community setting with other people mourning that child and feel a sense of community around that event.

Byliner: How did your story angle evolve from the incident itself to the broader topic?

M H-T: Gun violence impacts African American communities at a higher rate than others, and there is community trauma generated by these shootings. People often think about the person who was shot, obviously, and their immediate family. But what people don't think about is how that shooting affects the whole community – how it affects the business owner next door, or the people who live on the street, or the extended family. There’s this trauma generated by this onslaught of gun violence, and what do we do about that? This is a big deal right now – in fact, “trauma informed health care” is a big buzz word right now, and gun violence is one example of that. People who are showing up at the hospital or the ER are often impacted by trauma, and how do people in the system think about that and treat people differently, knowing that?

Byliner: What challenges did you face in reporting these stories?

M H-T: I decided I wanted to talk to the family, but I didn't want to approach the mother or the family at the funeral – that’s just so insensitive and tacky to do that. So I asked around to find out who her pastor was and I gave him my card and I told him I wanted to do a story about this and asked if he wouldn't mind introducing me. He said wanted to meet with me first. He basically wanted to check me out, check out my motives, so he and I met at a restaurant and just talked and I shared my desire to cover this story and that I wanted to be sensitive about it, and come at it in terms of talking about the trauma around the entire community and not just what was going on with that particular family. And he liked that so he called the mother, Marshawnette Daniels, on his cell phone, while we were sitting there, and basically introduced us.

Byliner: What impact did your reporting have?

M H-T: The response was tremendous. Everybody thought it was a really strong piece and it just broke people’s hearts. But it's also very disappointing because I don't think a thing has changed. I think the shootings have continued. More mothers have lost their children. The community continues to be traumatized and the beat goes on. But on the positive side, Marshawnette has become an activist and is determined that her daughter’s death will not be in vain. She is working on getting a law passed to hold parents accountable when their kids commit violence.

Read Marlene’s award-winning stories here and here . Marlene welcomes your feedback or questions. Contact her at Marlene.Harris-Taylor@ideastream.org .


Are you a first-place award-winner who would like to be featured in Byliner ? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Send us a note at pressclubcle@gmail.com . Special thanks to Press Club board member Cristy Carlson for this profile.