On February 5, 2016, WNEM-TV5 (Flint) took its coverage of the Flint Water Crisis to new heights. The station devoted the 7pm to 8pm hour on this Friday night to a town hall discussion on the crisis affecting Mid-Michigan’s largest city for nearly two years. WNEM is the only station to provide a special broadcast in prime access or prime time. TV5 anchors Sam Merrill and Collette Boyd hosted from the station’s downtown Flint studio.
Among those participating in the discussion were Hurley Hospital Pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha, the physician who discovered a connection between the drinking water and the high lead levels and Virginia Tech PhD, Dr. Mark Edwards, the first scientist to demonstrate that the highly corrosive water was causing lead to leach from water distribution lines and pipes. Elected officials, including Congressman Dan Kildee (D-5), State Representative Sheldon Neeley (D-34), State Senator and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-27), also participated.
Families experiencing severe health effects from the water told the story of the impact on their children. The top EPA official probing the problem visually displayed the difference between a corroded pipe and one with full lead protection. Local activists challenged officials to solve the problem, even if it means removing all the lead service lines citywide. Governor Rick Snyder (R) was an invited guest. He chose to participate by conducting a one-on-one interview with TV5’s Sam Merrill a few hours prior to the event.
According to WNEM-TV5 General Manager Al Blinke, “this town hall meeting was a great opportunity for the community to get an in-depth look at the water situation in Flint and to have an uninterrupted discussion regarding the water crisis. TV5 felt there needed to be a venue, other than the local news, that allowed more time to delve into the problem and the solutions.”
WNEM News Director Ian Rubin said, “The town hall meeting was an important avenue for TV5 to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to the audience even as the national news media spends more time on the story. We were investigating this story for a year and a half before it received national attention, and we will likely be digging deep on it long after the national media departs.”