The investigative reporter led an in-depth exploration of bullying in Wisconsin's public schools.
HOWLAND -- This year's prestigious Peabody Awards, which recognize meritorious service by radio and television organizations and individuals, have a unique Mahoning Valley connection.
Howland Township native Bob Segall, an investigative reporter for WITI Fox 6 in Milwaukee, led the station's intensive ongoing investigation into school bullying. He is the son of Allan and Pearl Segall of Howland and lives with his wife and two children in Kenosha, Wis.
The series began in fall 2003 and continued throughout 2004, culminating in an in-depth program in November that recently earned the coveted Peabody Award.
During the presentation ceremony, hosted by "60 Minutes" correspondent Morley Safer at New York City's Waldorf-Astoria on May 16, the awards committee described "The Bully Project" as "a powerful investigative piece that developed into a statewide public service campaign."
Segall, a 1989 Howland High School graduate who has worked for several networks since his graduation from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in 1993, credits his station with giving his investigative unit the resources to develop the project.
WITI gave the news team 13 minutes for the initial report, Segall said. "The normal time for a news report is 90 seconds, and for an investigative report, three to four minutes at the most," he said. "But our news managers wanted it done right, and without that commitment the Peabody Award would not have been possible."
The series was born "partly from hunch, partly from tips from parents," Segall said. After receiving telephoned complaints about children being bullied on Milwaukee's school playgrounds at recess, Segall and his investigative unit took to the streets to find the truth.
The team gathered more than 100 hours of undercover video at 52 elementary school playgrounds across southeastern Wisconsin. The eight-week project "revealed many school playgrounds turned into battlegrounds during recess, with little supervision provided ... students kicking and punching each other" at two-thirds of the playgrounds observed, the team reported. In some cases, injuries resulted.
"We parked on the side streets and watched the activity at recess," Segall said. "We saw the kids getting roughed up." The investigative unit also shot footage of teachers huddled together in conversation, oblivious to the brawling on the playground.
'Part of the solution'
Confronted with the evidence from the investigation, some school administrators responded with appreciation and took immediate steps to remedy the problem; others, Segall said, were offended.
But after the airing of the first episode of "Roughed up at Recess" in fall 2003, "hundreds of calls" began coming into the TV station -- more complaints, further evidence, more tips. So the station decided to go a step further and, Segall said, "be a part of the solution."
The solution included surveying more than 13,000 students about school bullying -- the largest bullying survey of its kind in the United States -- to help schools better understand the issue. The TV station also hosted a community forum that brought together organizations willing to work one-on-one with schools and families to help them deal with bullying, which will be repeated this year.
The station also created a resource guide and made it available to the community, and worked with local agencies to provide counseling, referrals and mediation services.
To encourage interest in the project, Fox 6 enlisted Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre as a spokesman for its public service announcements. Segall has prepared more than 30 community presentations for school boards, PTAs, medical associations and law enforcement organizations, and will continue that activity this year. Videotapes of The Bully Project are being used as training tools at schools and universities as far away as Vermont, Georgia and Alaska.
Segall's investigation prompted widespread changes, such as an initiative by the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services, which has established a committee to create a statewide action policy on bullying and placed Segall on the committee; publication of The Bully Project's key findings in the Wisconsin State Medical Journal's winter 2005 edition; and a program by the Milwaukee Public Library that offers a broad collection of bullying-related books, videos and curriculum materials for children, parents and teachers.
The project has prompted Wisconsin lawmakers to begin drafting anti-bullying legislation that would require all Wisconsin schools to adopt a policy against bullying.
The Peabody Award for The Bully Project is the latest recognition Segall has received for his work. He joined Fox 6 in 1998 and has since won six Emmy awards and more than 50 local, state and regional awards.