WUWM: Guns, Youth and 'Precious Lives'

January 24, 2016

Milwaukee Collaboration Provides Platforms for New Voices

Precious Lives

Photo by Mike Sears, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“This is Precious Lives … Stories about kids, teens, guns — how we end the violence. Because we are precious.”

Each week, Milwaukee public radio station WUWM airs the stories of those affected by gun violence among the city’s youth. These audio stories — of families, pastors, block watch leaders, activists and funeral directors — serve as the centerpiece for Precious Lives, a two-year, 100-story multimedia project developed by 371 Productions in collaboration with WUWM, commercial radio station WNOV-AM, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Stories include a victim of a botched carjacking, whose medical bills and lost income have topped $80,000 with no end in sight; and a woman who shot and paralyzed a 15-year-old who tried to rob her, and how the event affects both of them a year later.

“Without a series like this, I would never hear those voices, and I suspect others would not hear them, either,” said WUWM General Manager Dave Edwards. 

Precious Lives is one of several news-driven multimedia collaborations WUWM has led to engage Milwaukee on important issues. The project includes numerous media, funding and community partners, and provides a geomapped web feature, Give Help/Get Help, of more than 100 local organizations addressing the causes of youth violence.

Kiran Vee photo by Charlie Koss
To wrap up the first year of Precious Lives, composer Kiran Vee remixed sounds and voices from the first 49 stories, set to music for a 7-minute audio story. Photo by Charlie Koss.

Recently, the Precious Lives collaborators received a CPB-sponsored Localore: Finding America grant from AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio. This new grant will help them launch a concurrent series, Precious Lives: Before the Gunshots, produced by Eric Von, which will examine the causes of gun violence in Milwaukee though storytelling and live events.


Both series trace their roots to Project Milwaukee: Black Men in Prison, a six-month special report WUWM broadcast starting in 2013 based on work by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researchers John Pawasarat and Lois Quinn. Their research found that Wisconsin had the highest incarceration rate for black men in the country, and that by their 30s, more than half the African American men in Milwaukee County had spent time in prison.  Town hall meetings held by WUWM and Milwaukee Public Television drew more than 500 people, and WUWM used taped interviews to create a Tumblr page called More Than My Record, featuring men with criminal records sharing their experiences.

The WUWM reporting and community engagement raised public awareness of the black male incarceration rate in the community before the issue gained national attention.

“Milwaukee is such an intensely segregated community,” Quinn said. “WUWM is bringing in a lot of viewpoints — different viewpoints than what we’re used to hearing — and that’s valuable.”

These news collaborations allow WUWM and their partners to bring important issues to the community using each media format to the best advantage, Edwards said.  “With all the partners actively promoting the reporting, we’re covering a lot of territory, and providing very powerful stories out in the community. Nobody’s going to tell these stories otherwise.”