In 1994, Robert Jordan, 69, had a moral epiphany. At the peak of a sex scandal case involving Illinois Congressman Mel Reynolds, Jordan questioned the news’ ethical coverage.
Jordan was a reporter for WGN at the time. He, along with reporters from many other Chicago news stations, waited outside of Reynolds’ office. They hoped to get a quote from Reynolds, who was accused of having sexual relations with a 16-year-old campaign volunteer, but they were unsure of his whereabouts.
A woman passing by asked Jordan if he was covering a shooting of three teenage boys nearby the day before. Jordan hadn’t heard about the shooting and told her he was there to report on Reynolds’ indictment. She insisted that now that he knew about the shooting, he should cover it.
Jordan said a hush came over the reporters and camera crew during this woman’s confrontation. He explained that it didn’t work that way–He had to cover the scandal. The woman expressed much disappointment in Jordan. He called his office, and someone else was sent to cover the shooting.
“I had a flood of feelings flash through my mind. My initial reaction was that she was so right and how could we have missed the shooting?” Jordan said. “But I also understood how news works … Malfeasance in office is not to be taken lightly.”
The woman’s reaction to the station’s idea of which news deserves the most importance haunted Jordan. He, too, wondered why some stories are profiled more than others, even as recently as the Hadiya Pendleton shooting on Jan. 29. There were two others who were fatally shot in the city that day, Devin Common in Greater Grand Crossing and Gino Angotti on the East Side. Their stories were overshadowed by Pendleton’s. Pendleton and her family deserve the recognition and care they received, but why didn’t the families of other victims receive the same care?
“If you are a member of a family of someone who has been murdered, and no one knows about it. You really feel, ‘why is it that my loved one is unimportant?’” Jordan said.
Unbalanced news coverage is the subject of Jordan’s new book and in part led him to an education at Loyola University Chicago. He started thinking about Loyola after graduating from Roosevelt University with a Bachelor of Arts in general studies and earning his Masters of Arts in communication, specifically speech, from Northeastern University in 1994.
In 1996, he enrolled in Loyola’s Education Leadership and Policy Studies doctorate program while also earning a minor in ethics.
“My dissertation really helped in giving me a great foundation in research, following topics all the way through. … It gave me a clarity that has helped in my writing and in my thinking that I don’t believe I would have had otherwise,” Jordan said.
Jordan was already an established reporter and anchor at WGN when he went back to school. He first joined WGN in 1973. In 1978, he left for the brief two-year stint to join the Midwest Bureau for CBS. He returned to WGN in 1980 and has been there ever since. He is a weekend anchor for WGN News at Nine, and he also writes, reports and produces stories for weekday and weekend news programs.
This veteran reporter covers a wide range of Chicago news ranging from the light topic of weather to the heavier political scandals.
“I love features involving people… When you have an opportunity to sit down and talk to people, to interview them, to find what sets them apart from the average,” Jordan said, “But breaking news still makes the heart pump… To this day, something happens: you hear a siren or see the blue lights flashing. It’s not the same curiosity that the public has… mine is I want to know what’s the story going on there. Is it something I should call into the office? Should I get out of my car and go and cover it? That’s what breaking news does.”
Jordan says he finds a challenge in reporting the heart-wrenching stories.
“Stories dealing with human tragedy can sometimes tug on your heart strings because you see the family members of the victim and that, for me, is the painful part… There have been stories I’ve covered where tears have streamed down my cheeks, and I’ve looked around and other reporters are doing the same. You’re human, and you feel it,” he said.
In covering such brutal stories day after day, it seems like it would be difficult for Jordan to keep his spirits up and avoid a jaded perspective.
Eight years ago, Jordan and his co-anchor Jackie Bange developed a mechanism to avoid emotionally sinking during their broadcast. At the first break, after most of the violent, breaking news stories, Jordan and Bange acted out a skit from The Three Stooges, adding their own motions and sound effects as well. It is a stress release that helps them finish the show. WGN uploaded a video of Jordan and Bange’s routine on Youtube in 2009,which has since reached over three million views.
The Three Stooges routine is also something that shows Jordan’s lightheartedness and love for the performance aspect of anchoring. He reports with an inherent, human empathy but maintains a neutral, informative balance as well.
“Journalists tell stories. We tell all kinds of stories,” Jordan said. “If you know you enjoy telling stories, then you’re going to be right at home.”