If a Chicago-area resident has been ripped-off, swindled or otherwise cheated, there's a good chance they'll call Jason Knowles.
Knowles, who is gay, has been ABC 7's consumer investigative reporter since 2014, and has been with the station since 2004. He covers everything from traffic cameras to lead exposure, to dangers posed by social media and other emerging technologies. Knowles described his job as "ever-changing," adding that it entails "juggling a lot of balls in the air at the same time."
"We have several irons in the fire at all times," he further explained. "We may have three, four, five stories that we've shot video on, and are trying to get responses on. At the same time, we're looking ahead at the next batch of stories. We're getting those stories from viewers who are calling or emailing, or ideas that we generate."
Knowles has long been heavily involved in the Pride-related programmingdubbed "Pride 365"which entails LGBTQ+ content year-round. This year he'll report on the street at the Chicago Pride Parade, which he first did in 2022, as well.
He recalled covering last year's parade: "It was so cool to be in the thick of it, talking to everybody and running around. At least for me, it was nice to have something unscripted and fun, being able to be on TV and just go with it. With investigative reports, things are kind of 'legal' and very scripted. It was greatI loved it."
The bulk of the station's Pride programming airs in Junethe day he spoke with WCT, for example, the station was about to broadcast Knowles' report on transgender teenagers and their familiesbut ABC 7 has made an effort to air LGBTQ+-related stories all year long, Knowles said. He has done stories to mark LGBTQ History Month and Trans Visibility Day, for example.
Knowles was especially proud of a 2022 story that he did, under the auspices of both his investigative unit and the Pride 365 initiative, about difficulties marginalized groups face in LGBTQ+ bars. "It was cool to bring both…brands, I guess…together," he said.
Knowles praised ABC 7 and Disney (the station's corporate owner) as "being nothing but supportive." He added, "I really enjoy the Pride work.… Even if I wasn't doing the LGBTQ coverage on the side [of the consumer-reporting], I think it would be a great situation, where they'd be supportive."
He admitted to being aware of the importance of being a high-profile, visible member of Chicago's LGBTQ+ community.
"It is important for LGBTQ+ childrenand adultsto see themselves represented," Knowles explained. "They can look at the television and say, 'Hey, I can do that one day,' if you're a kid who wants to be a reporter or an anchor. 'He's out and he's in a good space and I can do it too.'"
He stressed that people who can and choose to be out of the closet should be active in the community as well. Television stations are extremely sensitive to how their anchors, reporters and other on-air personalities present themselves to the public, leading to many LGBTQ+ broadcast journalists staying closeted. Knowles recalled doing so did so while at an earlier position in Ohio.
"I was very worried at that former station," he said. "Not because of the way anybody treated me. They were all very nice. But it was a different time. It was Toledo, Ohio between the years of 1997 and 2004. Being on air, I was a little concerned. But I had to let that goand I did when I came here."
Knowles loves covering the hot-button issues most of all; one such example was his reporting about Chicago's controversial traffic cameras.
"There was a lot of criticism around them, even though a lot of people say they're for safety," he explained. "There are some safety benefits. But there is criticism from people who just say that they're money-makers for the city. … People really relate to that and feel as if they shouldn't have to pay for some of these violations."
Another of his favorite stories concerned wait-times for DNA labs. Delays at the labs had resulted in hundreds of unsolved investigations, and after Knowles' team did their reporting, the state police revamped its crime lab.
"Anytime we can make a difference like that, I love it," Knowles said.