Covering the Buffalo Wild Wings situation: One reporter's experience

  • Marie Wilson, reporter at the Daily Herald in DuPage County.

    Marie Wilson, reporter at the Daily Herald in DuPage County.

 
 
Updated 12/2/2019 9:45 AM

As complex as the story is about a multiracial group of 18 being asked to move Oct. 26 inside a Buffalo Wild Wings in Naperville, the reporting process to get the story has been rather straightforward.

Work the phones. Use sources I trust. Build trust in new sources as I connect with them. Write what I've been told is truth, and nothing but that truth. Attribute carefully. Paraphrase even more carefully. Trust the reader to decipher the difference between reported facts and social media speculation.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

This is not to say reporting and writing this controversial story has been easy. Far from it. It's been stressful and time-consuming, yet it's made time fly.

In its early stages, we as reporters knew the story from the perspective of the families who were asked to move, primarily from social media posts and later from statements made during a news conference.

We were told the group was asked to move because two white customers did not want to sit next to them. We dug from there to find out more.

And during these early stages in the first week of November, this story took up the better part of four work days in a row. But it wasn't the only thing on my plate.

During those four days, I still had to (and had the privilege to, because I love this job) write about the following: a redevelopment project in Naperville (twice); a suicide prevention run in honor of a Lisle teenager; the strong safety record of Elmhurst Hospital; a new Fourth of July festival in Naperville; a new Service Week at an elementary school in Lombard; the success of Naperville native and "Jeopardy!" contestant James Holzhauer; and the decision by vaping products maker JUUL not to give a safety presentation during a Naperville public meeting.

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Also during those four days, I worked on but didn't finish stories about a new facility in Lombard for an Indian-American museum; the first Women in Construction Exploration day at the Technology Center of DuPage in Addison; and the possibility of bariatric surgery for patients with childhood obesity.

A lot of my job is about juggling as many stories as I can handle at once, working on them simultaneously to ensure productivity and to meet deadlines.

But when a story like the Buffalo Wild Wings situation comes up, it dominates my work flow as it shifts and takes shape. It requires the help of my co-workers and editors, to say the least.

Staff Writer Steve Zalusky jumped in first, covering the earliest news the first weekend of November when we got wind that Buffalo Wild Wings fired two managers who were involved in asking the group of 18 to switch seats.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Assistant City Editor Robert Sanchez helped next, covering a news conference hosted by the families in the group and led by their attorney. We learned the families did not plan to file a lawsuit, but wanted to push for changes to prevent future racially charged situations from occurring at restaurants and similar venues.

After the news conference, I largely handled the stories from there, talking with Naperville's mayor and city council members, police chief and other police leaders, as well as the attorney for the families, the DuPage County NAACP president and a spokesman for Buffalo Wild Wings.

As details emerged, I learned from my sources that police were investigating what transpired, and I was advised to file a Freedom of Information Act request to seek a copy of that report. The police chief at that time told me the report was not yet complete, but it found no evidence of a hate crime. My relationship with the chief, developed during the six years I have been covering Naperville, led to that fact being available first, right here for readers of the Daily Herald.

When the completed police report came out, Du­Page County Editor Bob Smith helped me sift through it on a tight deadline. And suddenly we had new viewpoints and a fuller picture of the story from interviews conducted by officers and detectives contained in the report.

We learned the white couple involved was known to have made racially inappropriate comments in the past, but did not do so on Oct. 26. We learned one Buffalo Wild Wings employee classified the entire situation as "a lot of miscommunication" with "our staff causing most of the drama."

This story is not over, as the attorney for the families and the spokesman for Buffalo Wild Wings both have told me they plan to meet to address issues such as hiring practices, diversity and sensitivity training and a zero-tolerance policy for bigoted behavior.

This meeting, indeed, may already have occurred. But the company spokesman said both parties agreed to keep it quiet.

So the work of a reporter on this story continues -- making calls, building relationships, trusting sources and following the trail of information to the truth.

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