Since Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown on Saturday, Aug. 9, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has published more than 625 stories, editorials and opinion pieces about the incident and its aftermath.
Perhaps no other local event in the region’s history has required such sustained, intense effort by the news organization. And since the results of two government investigations into the incident—one by a St. Louis County grand jury and another by the U.S. Justice Department–have yet to be released, the “Michael Brown case” will be the focus of the newspaper for weeks, months and maybe years to come.
For those who wonder if “story fatigue” has set in at the newspaper, Editor Gilbert Bailon has this response: “From the staff, I don’t think people are tired of the story. When the protests were going strong people were physically tired because they were working late and then coming in early the next day. I think people are still energized because they know how meaningful this is for the region. There is a great deal of energy about that. About the future there is not anxiety but anticipation about what’s going to evolve in the next week. It’s an important moment in the history of the region, and we need to play a role in documenting it. That is something journalists thrive on.”
In one way or another, the Ferguson story has demanded the attention of nearly all of the newspaper’s 134 reporters, editors and photographers. Beyond the coverage of the shooting itself and the demonstrations that followed, the Post-Dispatch has examined the event from nearly every possible angle. There have been profiles of many of the people involved, explanations of the legal systems that comes into play and analyses of the political fallout. The newspaper has also sought out information on underlining elements such as race, housing, municipal courts, and the racial makeup of police department staffs that may help explain what happened.
Whatever gets reported about the fatal shooting of the unarmed, black 18-year-old by a white police officer is subjected to intense scrutiny. Once, about 20 people picketed the newspaper claiming it was biased against protestors.
“We get lots of feedback good and bad,” Bailon said. “How a story gets played, the language of a cutline, it’s all very much viewed under a microscope and it’s viewed according to a perspective. You are used to being criticized but it’s much more complicated when there are people who are so close to the story. We are aware of that, and we are trying to remain as neutral and fact-driven as possible in our coverage and how we present the news. We are trying to be grounded in solid sourcing and solid information.”
Bailon said metropolitan editors Adam Goodman and Marcia Koenig have handled many of the stories. The newspaper has been first to develop information on the official autopsy of Michael Brown, surveillance video of Darren Wilson leaving the Ferguson police station after the shooting as well as the police radio exchanges that showed the entire event lasted about 90 seconds.
Many of the stories and photos have attracted national attention, especially the photograph by Robert Cohen of a demonstrator wearing an American flag t-shirt enveloped in smoke and sparks while throwing a glowing tear gas canister back at police.
While Bailon said the story has had a big impact on staff time and personnel resources, he cannot quantify it in terms of overtime hours or expenses. He said there have been some additional expenses for staff safety training and equipment.
As far as what happens in the future in terms of covering the reaction to the investigations’ findings, Bailon said the newspaper was ready.
“We’ve done the planning and call sheets have been prepared and everybody knows who goes where and what the online people are going to do,” he said. “We know as the story evolves there are going to be different developments and spot changes. We’re as prepared as we can be.”