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Should the media fund the rebuilding of Ferguson?

December 1, 2014

There used to be positions available at news outlets for news OR entertainment editors.

Today, there’s almost no way to tell the difference.

By beginning and continuing with the “unarmed black teen killed by white police officer” narrative,  the media drove much of the ensuing violence.

Sure, you can argue that paid protestors, anarchists and over-the-hill political activists and agitators were and are a part of the problem. They may even have made a few phone calls and suggested the news bias we have been watching and listening to for four months.

Is that the only reason for the tone of the coverage?  What about the stories that haven’t been told?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Ferguson is a city of some 21,111 people, and as of 2010, slightly over 67% were African-Americans. although some news reports put that figure now at around 73%.  It’s an educated community, with 88.5% of the population having graduated from high school, substantially higher than the 2010-11 national average of 80%. Almost 23% have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher.

At even the height of the violence, it was never reported that anything close to 70% of Ferguson’s residents were involved in committing the violence. Most reports put the number at well less than 10%, with some reports citing that the actual violent acts were committed or supported on the street by a few hundred people at most, some of whom didn’t even live in the city.

That makes it a lot harder to make excuses for the wall-to-wall coverage of people calling for Ferguson to be destroyed, coverage that may have bordered on inciting a riot.

What do the other citizens of Ferguson think about the issues?

No one in the Ferguson business community caused all the chaos and destruction, not even the minority market owner who probably wishes he had never reported the theft of a box of cigars.

For some unfathomable reason, a small segment of their community somehow thinks that they should lose everything because of the incident.

What about all the people who lost income and property?  Where are their stories?

Is there a back story that would explain why a young man would decide it was OK to rob a store in broad daylight and assault the owner?

This community isn’t  the rich white one percent the media loves to blame for all of society’s ills, but the citizens aren’t the uneducated lawless thugs they look like on TV either.

There’s an old but true axiom in the news business that says  if it bleeds, it leads.

Read that again.

It doesn’t say “if it  isn’t bleeding, make it bleed”.

Two of the rights granted in the Constitution are freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Within those vitally important rights is the inherent responsibility to use them wisely.

A lot of perfectly innocent people lost their livelihoods because of riots that didn’t need to happen.

One of the early  instances of negative reporting was to chastise the Ferguson police because they used armored vehicles in crowd control, reporting which has and is even today attracting presidential pressure to take all so-called militarized assets away from all police departments everywhere.

Still, given that those assets were available, one of the perplexing images during the first night of the burn-out was of police officers backing away from the crowd, and the missing images were any sign of the National Guard or effective crowd control.

Did that happen because the police were being none-too-subtlety portrayed as white supremacists who regularly went hunting for blacks to use for target practice, or was political pressure used to blunt the officer’s effectiveness?

Did any reporter try to verify  the police chief’s statement that blacks didn’t apply for positions as police officers?  If it’s true, did any reporter go out into the community at large and ask why?

There are a hundred news stories wrapped into the shooting of Michael Brown, and it has multiple facets. We’re only seeing one.

There used to be classes taught on ethics and best practices for journalists. Admittedly, with the advent of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, it’s hard to get a scoop on anything. What effect does that have on how the news is slanted?

Let’s not forget, the news isn’t publicly funded. It’s a business. Viewer and readership numbers drive ad revenue, just as customers provide revenue for businesses. Wait too long to cover a story in the name of responsible journalism and you lose money.

That doesn’t mean that if you can’t be the first with a live shot, lede or a provocative nut graf, you can’t still represent and uphold the ethics you supposedly learned in school.

Perhaps the question we could debate is whether ratings rather than reporting drove the riots and resulting damage, and if it did, should the media outlets be responsible for helping to fix the destruction they knowingly and willingly helped to create?

From → op-ed

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