THE NEUTRAL ZONE
Over the last few weeks of unrest in the U.S., a noticeable shift has occurred in the relationship between police and the Fourth Estate. As of June 5, police beat, maced, teargassed, or arrested over 200 journalists around the country while covering anti-police protests. While some attacks came from protestors or citizens, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker found that police were responsible for 80% of the 280 rights violations on journalists between May 26 and June 3.
Journalist Linda Tirado filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city of Minneapolis and unnamed police officers after she lost vision in her eye from being struck in the face with a “non-lethal” projectile while covering the city’s protests. On Tuesday, Dover Post reporter Andre Lamar was arrested in Delaware while covering the protests. On May 29, CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew were taken into custody while on air by Minneapolis police while covering initial protests over George Floyd’s death. In an open letter to police nationwide, 18 journalism organizations called for the end of the “deliberate and devastating targeting of journalists” reporting on protests around the country.
Attitudes towards journalists taking part in protesting are changing in some newsrooms. Axios CEO Jim VandeHei told employees via email Monday that the company “proudly support[s] and encourage[s] you to exercise your rights to free speech, press, and protest,” and noted that the company would cover bail or help with medical bills if needed. Generally, journalists do not participate actively in protests “to avoid the appearance of partisanship.” VandeHei walked back his statements a day later because the company’s neutrality could be “at-risk” if reporters took a side on one issue. On Monday, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette barred two Black journalists from reporting on the protests. Alexis Johnson was told a tweet she wrote comparing the aftermath of a Kenny Chesney concert to looting violated the newspaper’s social media policy. Photojournalist Michael Santiago was not given a reason for being pulled from coverage. As of Tuesday, the Post Gazette expanded its ban to dozens of journalists who came out in support of Johnson and Santiago.
New era of change hits newsrooms – The Hill – 6/10/2020
The civil unrest wracking the country has ushered in an era of activism in the news media, with a new generation of reporters advocating for social changes that have forced newsrooms to confront long-held newsgathering traditions. The New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer ousted senior editors after their newsrooms revolted against controversial opinion pieces that ran in their papers. Axios has given permission to its reporters to march with Black Lives Matter protesters as demonstrators, rather than observers. And senior editors at boutique outlets, including Refinery29 and Bon Appetit, have lost their jobs over allegations from reporters that they oversaw a culture of racial discrimination in the newsroom.
Journalists, Rights Groups Alarmed by Arrests at Protests – Voice of America – 6/9/2020
Chris Dunker, a reporter for the Lincoln Journal Star, said he was shocked to be briefly detained while covering a demonstration in Lincoln, Nebraska, on May 31. At the time, the reporter was wearing a vest clearly labeled Press. Police knocked him to the ground, handcuffed and briefly detained Dunker, before releasing him. The journalist then continued filming. “To see, just like the flagrant way that law enforcement has been targeting journalists, violating their rights to report, arresting them, you know, just for doing their jobs under the First Amendment has been very alarming,” Dunker told VOA.
Resetting the relationship between the press and the police – Columbia Journalism Review – 6/11/2020
At this moment of reckoning, the press has a dual responsibility with respect to the police. Firstly, we must continue to shine a spotlight on reform efforts, and not—as has so often been the case with gun legislation, for example—let both lawmakers and law enforcement off the hook for inaction by dropping the issue the minute attention turns elsewhere. […] Secondly, we must reevaluate how we cover policing, in terms of the behaviors we choose to spotlight, the language we choose to use, and—most crucially—whose accounts we choose to believe.
Grant Stern on Twitter, 6/9/2020: Kudos @axios. Objectively, every journalist has an opinion of their own.
Christina Asquith on Twitter, 6/10/2020: If you are a journalist thinking about protesting then you are missing the entire point of being a journalist.
Ida Sawyer on Twitter, 6/9/2020: “I had no opportunity to make a phone call, no one questioned me, no one read me my rights+they were exposing me to coronavirus. It shouldn’t be this way in America.” -@keithboykin, a #NYC journalist arrested during a May 30 protest+held for six hours @hrw
Areva Martin, Esq. on Twitter, 6/8/2020: S/O @michaelharriot 4 sharing your horrific story of being arrested for performing your duties as a journalist at a protest in Birmingham on #TheSpecialReport Journalists have to keep speaking up against systems that penalize black men b/c of their skin! #JournalismIsNotACrime