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 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.
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.