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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

UW-Parkside class analyzes national story of Rittenhouse trial happening in their own backyard

Tannette Elie, lecturer in UW-Parkside's communications program, is using news coverage of Rittenhouse trial as a case study for her students.
Emily Files
Tannette Elie, lecturer in UW-Parkside's communications program, is using news coverage of Rittenhouse trial as a case study for her students.

Jury deliberations are scheduled to begin in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial Tuesday. Rittenhouse is the 18-year-old who killed two men and injured a third during unrest in Kenosha last year.

Over the past week, a class at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha has been using the Rittenhouse trial as a journalism case study.

Communications lecturer Tannette Elie said she looks for locally-relevant news stories for her students to analyze each year in her Introduction to Newswriting class. They use those stories to explore questions including what elements make up a news piece, what makes a good interview, and what makes a good quote.

In her about 15 years at Parkside, Elie can’t remember a bigger story than this.

"It’s puts Kenosha definitely in the national spotlight," Elie said. "And one of the things I felt with this trial is this is a great case study in terms of what they’re learning about basic newswriting and reporting."

During class discussion on Monday afternoon, Elie asked students for their observations about how quotes are used in stories about the Rittenhouse case. Jasmine Plunkett responded.

"I guess in general, you can tell sometimes if a particular [media outlet] is biased a little bit towards a side," Plunkett said.

Plunkett is a third-year nursing student taking Elie’s newswriting class to fulfill an English pre-requisite. She said looking at journalism through the lens of the Rittenhouse case has been eye-opening.

"This is obviously a very polarizing issue," Plunkett said. "So I feel like unbiased news stories is like super important because that means you can form your own opinion and stay well-informed and make your own decision without bias."

Plunkett is from Kenosha and still lives there. She said it’s been uncomfortable to see her town in the spotlight for such a tragic reason. And it’s had an impact on how people she knows feel about Kenosha, which she said residents jokingly call “Ke-nowhere.”

"I feel like we’ve changed from Ke-nowhere to boom! Like huge — I just don’t even know how to explain it," Plunkett said. "I’ve heard people say they don’t want to live here anymore. They want to go somewhere less crazy, more quiet."

That’s exactly what happened to another Parkside student taking Elie's journalism class: Vanessa Cruz. The second-year nursing student said she used to live in downtown Kenosha, at the center of the destructive unrest where Kyle Rittenhouse shot three people.

"It did have an impact on me because my neighborhood wasn’t safe anymore," Cruz said. "I had to work extra, make a couple sacrifices to move out of that area because of what was going on."

The unrest in August 2020 followed the Kenosha police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man. There were protests, as well as looting and arson. The destruction drew in Rittenhouse with his AR-15 rifle, allegedly to protect businesses.

Cruz said she feels conflicted about Rittenhouse’s actions. She said some videos make it seem like he acted in self-defense, and others make it look like he provoked the situation.

"It has honestly caused a lot of arguments on social media, where if you do scroll through your newsfeed a little bit, some people are fighting over it and calling themselves out of their names, saying how could you defend a murderer?" Cruz said. "Other people [are] saying how could you prosecute a child like this? It all depends what angle you are looking at it from and what video you're watching."

Cruz said it’s been surreal to see so many people from all over the world talk about something that happened so close to home.

Emily does education reporting as well as general news editing at WUWM.
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