Ohio paper addresses bullying; invites the public to call in for help

AKRON, OH—Years ago, before the dawn of social media, a child who was bullied on the playground could go home to find peace.

“But today’s social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, and cell phone text messaging can create a veritable playground for bullies, that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Akron ()H) Beacon Journal reporter Kim Hone-McMahon wrote in an spate of stories on bullying.

As a feature writer, who has focused on issues affecting teenagers, she has noticed a trend toward incivility.

“I have noticed, along with what I write, that a lot of people are being really nasty to each other,” she said.

All over the country, teenagers report that bullies are making their lives miserable, some to the point of committing suicide.

“Many, including some in Northeast Ohio, have committed suicide after repeated teasing about being gay, foreign, fat, skinny, pretty, ugly or just because,” she wrote. “Many more suffer on a daily basis.”

Hone-McMahon wanted to do more than just report on these cases, so along with Beacon Journal Editor Bruce Winges, she embarked on a community service project to search for solutions.

On Nov. 7, 2010, the newspaper set up a bullying call-in and invited anyone touched by bullying to call and speak with an expert.  People were also invited to communicate by e-mails.

“We invited various organizations to send someone to serve on our panel, and they jumped on it,” Hone-McMahon said. “They came forth and said they were willing to do anything to help out.”

Among the panelists were school mental health professionals, domestic relations experts, school guidance counselors and therapists.

While the call-in focused on child bullying, not all of the callers were concerned with that problem.

“We were surprised that many of the people calling in were senior citizens,” Hone-McMahon said. “It was shocking. Even the panel members were shocked about senior bullying. Not just seniors being bullied, but how they bully each other and also their caregivers.”

The call-in was wildly successful, she said.

“Seconds before we went live (the night of the event), all of the phones lit up,” Hone-McMahon said. “People had already started e-mailing their questions to us before the call-in started.”

Every generation has seen bullying.

“I received an e-mail from a man in his 70s who was orphaned when he was young and grew up in a foster home,” Hone-McMahon said. “One of the other foster children was a bully, and one day, he and another boy killed that bully.”

That was in 1946.

The man, who was just a boy back then, was arrested and served four years in a detention facility.  He grew up, raised a family, and is a business owner in the Akron area.  The newspaper agreed not to use his full name and photographed him in silhouette to protect his family and business partner.

“He is still distraught after all these years,” she said.

In an interview, he told her “kids have to be taught that not only are the kids being bullied in jeopardy, but so is the bully. In my case, the bully is dead.”

Months after the call-in, Hone-McMahon is still receiving e-mails from people who want to tell their story.

“They don’t expect a call-back. They just need to vent,” she said. “It’s not going to go away.”

By staging a call-in, Hone-McMahon knows the Beacon Journal went beyond its duty to objectively report the news, but she also believes in service beyond day-to-day reporting.

“We feel that the Beacon Journal can do more than just document bullying where it exists in our community,” Winges told readers in an article about the call-in.

“Our call-in is part of an effort to move toward solutions so that we can better our community by dealing with the problem,” she said.

Hone-McMahon will continue to write stories about bullying and will use sidebars containing hotline phone numbers, resources and advice for people dealing with the problem.

“I haven’t gone to lengths figuring out a list of stories to write,” she said. “We’re not writing stories everyday.”

She continues to keep track of those who send her e-mails and call her wanting to talk about their experiences with bullying and she is always watching for a good story to report.

She and her editor have not thought about putting on a follow-up call-in event on this issue or any others yet, but they haven’t ruled it out.

“We want to keep searching for solutions rather than just reporting on the problems,” she said. “We just want to take it a step further.”