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Podcasting a Public Figure

Real Chi Youth reporters talked to Father Michael Pfleger about the problem of violent crimes streamed on Facebook Live. The following is a conversation about what they learned about the successes and limits of this interview.

Real Chi Youth journalists Corli Tolliver and Jhordan Ruiz with City Bureau fellow Sarah Conway (Photo credit: Joshua Perez)

Real Chi Youth journalists Corli Tolliver and Jhordan Ruiz sat down with City Bureau fellow Sarah Conway to discuss their exclusive interview with local priest and activist Father Michael Pfleger.

The interview is now a Real Chi Youth podcast about how Chicago youth are affected by violent crimes streamed on Facebook Live. The episode explores whether Facebook has the responsibility to curb violence on its popular live streaming platform.


Corli and Jhordan developed the podcast during a City Bureau/Real Chi Youth mentorship meet-up every Wednesday at Free Spirit Media’s office in Homan Square this spring.

Corli Tolliver and Jhordan Ruiz secured are journalists with Real Chi Youth (Photo credit: Joshua Perez)

The trio met up for cold iced coffees at Dark Matter’s Star Lounge to reflect on the high and low points of their Father Pfleger interview at St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham early this month.

Sarah: Why did you choose Father Pfleger as your subject for a podcast on violent crimes caught on Facebook Live?

Corli: I saw that Father Pfleger had written about the negative effects of Facebook Live on his personal Facebook page so we felt ultimately this was a really timely interview for the subject at hand.

Jhordan: We also liked that Father Pfleger is a well-known Chicago activist and very active in the community.


Sarah: How did you approach Father Pfleger for the interview?

Corli: I asked Jeff McCarter [founder and executive director of Free Spirit Media] to connect us with Father Pfleger as we were really interested in interviewing him for our podcast. He reached out Father Pfleger by email. Jhordan and I were both really happy to hear that Father Pfleger was excited to interview with us.

Sarah: How did you prepare for the interview?

Jhordan: One of the first steps was to conduct a test run interview in our recording room [at Free Spirit Media]. But we really ended up doing the interview better live.

Corli: We also came up with questions for the interview during the City Bureau mentorship, and of course we did a pre-recording of our intro and outro.

Sarah: Looking back at the interview, what were some of the most important questions you asked Father Pfleger?

Corli: There were a few. I asked him about the first time he witnessed a crime on Facebook Live and his reaction to it — that was an important question for me. I also asked Father Pfleger if Facebook Live does more harm than good, and why people watch crimes and don’t do anything.


Sarah: Were these the most challenging moments during the interview?

Jhordan: Father Pfleger wasn’t well rounded on the topics that we brought to him, and he couldn’t provide an answer outside of what would be expected from someone of his stature as a public figure. One of the challenging moments for me was when I asked him to describe the mental state of a person committing these types of crimes on live streaming apps and he couldn’t really answer. It made me wish that we had some insight from a psychologist at that point.

Sarah: Do you feel this was a typical response that a public figure gives to a tough question?

Corli: Definitely. He’s both a public figure and an activist. You have public figures who try to save face so that they don’t get in too much trouble with public statements.

Jhordan: Yes, absolutely. I feel like for most public figures there is an image and standard that is held on them. Some of their followers might take a genuinely blunt answer and blow it out of proportion, which leads to this beating around the bush.

Sarah: In hindsight, would you have chosen someone else for your podcast?

Corli: No, I like that he is so well-known and it raises the profile of our podcast.

Jhordan: Same here. He is at the end of the day a strong public figure in this city and his voice matters to a lot to people.

What were the highlights of the interview?

Jhordan: I would have to say it was Father Pfleger’s ability to listen. I appreciated how he individualized us, and gave us his full, undivided attention to record the podcast in his church.

Corli: For me, I liked that he was invited by Facebook to attend a special panel on live streaming violence, which validates why we chose him as the focus of our podcast. It made me respect the fact that he was able to back up the level of activism connected to his name.

Sarah: What was the significance of recording in St. Sabina?

Corli: It made us feel special that he opened up this huge church just for our interview. St. Sabina is really a safe haven in my neighborhood.

Sarah: How would you improve the interview in hindsight?

Jhordan: I feel like maybe we should have had more open-ended questions. This could have made the podcast more conversational.

Corli: I agree. I don’t think I had enough time to ask all the questions that I wanted. I also think that we could have had a conversation with Father Pfleger ahead of the interview to smooth out the vision of the podcast.

Learn more about Free Spirit Media’s Real Chi Youth, a diverse newsroom where young adults develop community reporting and skills on the job.