The shooting death last year of Michael Brown and the subsequent events that followed his death in the Ferguson unrest – protests, vigils, riots, outrage – left the public shocked, longing for answers from both sides of the debate that ensued. Brown’s death sparked renewed national attention to police brutality and the relationship between law…
By SHANE GRABER / Newsrooms in this country have known for nearly half a century that coverage of African-American communities needs fixing. In 1968, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission, argued that newsrooms should provide more inclusive reporting on racial issues in response to a summer of nationwide inner-city social disorder the summer before. Last year, the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson provided ample opportunity to see whether the news media had improved its newsgathering sensitivity. According to many observers, it came up short. In a dozen in-depth interviews I conducted for research at the University of Texas-Austin, African-American respondents said that Ferguson news coverage in the wake of the shooting once again did nothing to improve credibility or build better relationships with diverse communities. “In society, trust is not given at the drop of a hat,” a 34-year-old a real estate developer in Chicago told the paper’s author. “So how could media assume a single media performance during a single news event is strong enough to significantly affect trust? The Michael Brown story didn’t affect the way I felt, feel, or will feel about the media.”
By KURT SHILLINGER / In the aftermath of the killing of a black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last August, St. Louis Public Radio launched an ongoing series of conversations about race called We Live Here. The first full-length program traversed Lindbergh Boulevard, a busy thoroughfare arching through a diversity of the 90 municipalities that make up St. Louis County. Two comments stood out in the broadcast, which aired in early March. The first was by a prominent businessman in Melville, a predominantly white suburb in the southern reaches of the county. “It sickens me,” James Sinclair told the program, ‘to see St. Louis on the national news the way we have been portrayed. There are issues that need to be addressed. But the need to be addressed, they don’t need to be shouted at. And they certainly don’t need to take it out on the police.” The second was by Chris Kerr, who lives on an exclusive six-acre family homestead in tony Frontenac. “I don’t follow these types of cases,” Kerr said. “Whatever it is, the national case, the new case, the next one that comes up. Whatever agenda that somebody’s running that wants to do it. I don’t care. It’s not relevant to my life. So I just – I hear it on the news, but I stay out of it.”
By WILLIAM H. FREIVOGEL / A month after Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown, CNN broadcast what looked like a blockbuster “exclusive.” It was a videotape of two white construction workers who said Brown had his hands up when killed. One worker even gestures with his hands up. CNN’s analysts called it a “game changer” and its legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the witnesses had described “a cold-blooded murder.” But instead of a game changer or evidence of a crime, the contractors turned out to be two of a score of unreliable witnesses and the clearest example of how the media helped create the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” myth.
By BEN LYONS / “Journalism matters because we have the responsibility to inform readers of the truth of their world, even when they don’t want us to.” That was the message Michel Martin, host of NPR’s “Tell Me More,” and journalist of more than 25 years gave guests at Gateway Journalism Review’s First Amendment Celebration March 19. Drawing journalists and friends of news from around the region, the event took place at the Edward Jones headquarters in Des Peres, Mo. “We are following the story of ourselves as a nation,” Martin said of the media’s Ferguson coverage. Just as we as a people are imperfect, journalism should “hold a mirror to both flaws and beauty,” she said.
The Scripps Howard Foundation has awarded its first place national breaking news award for 2014 to the staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for coverage of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the chaotic events that followed. “A news organization is never tested more thoroughly than when a major story breaks in its backyard,” the contest judges said. “The Post-Dispatch was tested by a story that was fluid, emotional, important and not easily told with clarity and balance. It passed this test with textbook execution.”
By WILLIAM H. FREIVOGEL / Twitter provided the earliest reports of the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson this week. It also provided the forum for invective, hate and partisan reaction. President Barack Obama used Twitter to condemn the shootings and conservative critics condemned Obama for relegating his response to Twitter. Fox commentators blamed Attorney General Eric Holder’s report last week on unconstitutional police practices in Ferguson for creating the atmosphere in which the officers were shot. On Fox, Jeff Roorda, the head of the St. Louis police union said the resignation of Ferguson Chief Tom Jackson wasn’t enough for protesters, commenting, “They didn’t get what they wanted when Tom stepped down. They got it late last night when they finally, successfully shot two police officers.” Protest leaders and the Brown family condemned the violence in press conferences and on Twitter. But social media critics of the Ferguson police filled Twitter with invective about the police shootings being just in light of the death of Michael Brown. Meanwhile the Twitter handle for police supporters #bluelivesmatter was trending.
By WILLIAM H. FREIVOGEL / In announcing that no federal criminal charges would be filed against Officer Darren Wilson, Attorney General Eric Holder said he recognized “the findings in our report may leave some to wonder how the department’s findings can differ so sharply from some of the initial, widely reported accounts of what transpired.” He added that it “remains not only valid — but essential — to question how such a strong alternative version of events was able to take hold so swiftly, and be accepted so readily.” The attorney general offered one explanation for the willingness of the protesters to accept the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” narrative that the Justice Department report refutes. His explanation was that the blatantly unconstitutional policing and municipal court practices were so racist that they created a powder keg that exploded on the August afternoon that Wilson killed Michael Brown. But those in the media – traditional, new and social – might also take a look in the mirror.