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Read it. Comment below. I want to know what you think.
Every time a black person gets killed by a cop in America, I think about Perry Jones.
He was 19 years old and apparently homeless when he climbed onto the roof of a barbecue shack in Columbus, Georgia, shimmied down the chimney and hacked some meat out of a freezer with a cleaver. When he climbed up and out onto the roof of the restaurant, it was surrounded by cops — nine, by one officer’s count.
A sergeant who was an excellent shot and had recently won a sharpshooting competition took a bead on Perry Jones and killed him as he stood up there on the roof — no more than eight feet from the ground.
The next day, it was my job as the morning police reporter for the Columbus Ledger to write about what had happened. All these years later, I still remember feeling shocked when the police department’s internal affairs department quickly declared the shooting justified. I’m not sure Perry Jones had even been buried.
The NAACP was also shocked. How, the organization asked at a news conference, could the police have possibly determined in such a short time that the shooting was justified? The organization demanded an inquest into the young man’s death.
The coroner, a guy named Don Kilgore (can’t make this stuff up), agreed to perform an inquest if the family agreed.
Perry’s family? I had been able to find only two people with any connection to him: a grandmother, who lived in a shotgun shack with no phone or indoor plumbing south of town, and a sister who lived on the other side of the border in rural Alabama. I could see the sadness in the grandmother’s eyes, foggy from cataracts, as we talked a little about him. I had never encountered such a deep sense of powerlessness in a human being.
The sister was hard to reach. I remember calling a funeral home and the young man who answered the phone offering to run down the road to her house to get her because she didn’t have a phone, either. When she got on the line, she was still breathless from the walk and confused by my call. I explained I was just trying to find out about Perry, her brother, whose life had seemed to leave barely an imprint. She hadn’t seen him in a while. She was angry and confused by what had happened. He wasn’t the kind of person who would ever hurt anyone.
In the days after his death, I asked the police chief to explain to me why the sergeant had killed Perry, who was unarmed except, maybe, for the meat cleaver he still had in his hand. There was no video of what happened. No smart phone cameras. No body cameras. Just a story about a guy on a roof with a cleaver.
“Well, you know, Katherine,” the police chief said to me. “He could have jumped off that roof and hurt someone with that cleaver.”
Nine cops with guns. One 19-year-old with a cleaver. What about asking him to drop the weapon? Had anyone tried that?
The police chief gave me one of those looks I had seen many times since I’d moved to the Deep South from Chicago. It said, girl, you’re not from around here, are you?
Then the day arrived. The coroner announced a news conference where we media types expected to hear something about an inquest into the death of Perry Jones. All of the city’s reporters seemed to be there, and the TV crews were especially apparent that day as they set up their lights and cameras and did their stand-ups.
“The family of Perry Jones,” the coroner said, “does not want an inquest.”
And that was that. The TV crews started packing up their gear to leave.
Something didn’t seem right.
“Wait,” I said, raising my hand. “What family?”
The coroner looked irritated. He moved some papers around on the table where he sat at the front of the room. “His family.”
“Yes,” I persisted. “But who exactly do you mean?”
The other reporters were looking at me in confusion. I thought about the road between Perry’s sister and a telephone. I thought about the grandmother, living in near-darkness with seemingly no connection to the world and no understanding of what had happened to her grandson.
The coroner blew up at me, ended the news conference and we filed out of the room. Back in the newsroom, I called the funeral home in Alabama and asked the young man who answered the phone if he would please, just one more time, run down the road and get Perry’s sister. Several long minutes later, she came onto the line.
I asked her if she’d told the coroner that she did not want an inquest into her brother’s death.
There was a brief silence on the line, then she said: “Inquest? What’s an inquest?”
One more phone call — this one, to the coroner. “You didn’t ask them, did you?” I asked. This was not a journalistic approach. It was pure outrage that came from the deepening realization that public officials could and would tell outright lies to the public through the media. I told the coroner I would be calling him out in a newspaper story the next morning. He promised me that if I did, I would never have access to him or the police again. He kept his promise.
Watching the videos these past few years of young black men and women being killed by police, I have thought a lot about Perry Jones. He died more than 30 years ago in a medium-sized southern city that had in no way reckoned with racism. I can’t help but do the math. There have been a multitude of unseen, unheralded deaths, pre-cameras, pre-social media, pre-public outrage.
I’m putting Perry Jones’ name down right here, right now. He was 19. He was stealing meat from a freezer.
On Thursday in class, we’re going to talk with Scott Swafford and Gareth Harding about election and “Brexit” coverage and the differences in how U.S.-trained and European journalists cover politics.We’ll wade into the very murky waters of the “false equivalence” issue that has been raised in connection to this presidential race.
Here’s how a Huffington Post contributor defined false equivalence:
False equivalence is what happens when you are led to believe that two things should be given equal weight in your considerations as you come to any given decision, while those two things are not in any way actually equivalent. For example, let us consider the matter of climate change. John Oliver, on his HBO program Last Week With John Oliver, debunked the usual cable TV false equivalence in this issue dramatically last year. While today’s media tends to have one “expert” present each “side” of an argument, Oliver pointed out that, in the case of climate change, where 99/100 scientists agree that it is real and caused by humans, this one vs. one presentation creates a clear misconception for the viewer: a false equivalence. So he did the truly “fair and balanced” thing: he had 99 scientists argue against 1 in favor of man-made climate change.
HuffPo doesn’t pull any punches in its criticism of how the news media have covered Donald Trump. But remember, this is the same news organization that added this editor’s note to every story about Trump, starting in January:
“Note to our readers: Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, birther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”
Here’s what Nick Kristof, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times, had to say about the way Trump has been covered. He calls him a “crackpot.”
Dan Gillmor, writing for The Atlantic, proposes that the upcoming debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump be placed on 10-minute delay to give fact-checkers time to do their job. Then, he proposes, when a candidate utters a factually incorrect statement, the media outlet could mute the candidate and, using some sort of subtitle or super-title, let the viewer know that the candidate was talking about (fill in the blank) and had said something untrue.
It has come to this, Gillmor writes, because:
…the media people have to do something to regain some control over their integrity. Right now they’re being played for suckers by manipulators whose propaganda skills are vastly better than journalists’ apparent ability to do their jobs.
Meanwhile, others see a liberal media bias in the coverage of the campaign. Peter Navarro offers this perspective in The National Interest.
I’m pretty sure there are a great many potential voters out there who aren’t in the least bit influenced by facts or fact-checking. They’re influenced by frustration and other emotions.
As I said, this is a murky area.
But it’s well worth talking about, so be ready on Thursday.
Matt Dulin shared a bunch of tips and tools last week in class. Here they are. And now there is no excuse for you to not develop super ninja search skills.
Thanks, Matt! And thanks Joy Mayer and everyone else who helped compile this valuable list.
As representatives of our brand on social media, we need to be paying attention to monitoring what our audience is saying to us. Anywhere we’re talking to our audience, we need to be listening for what they say back. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit … we need to be on top of mentions of our brand.
In addition to that, we have an opportunity to eavesdrop on what our audience/community members are talking about to each other — in general about related to the things we cover. We look for conversations or posts that the newsroom should be aware of. Are there…
I’ve been persuaded to add a section for paid tools. Help me fill it out. What tools does your newsroom invest in? (I’ll try to track down the ones I’ve deleted from my list because they’ve started charging!)
The world can be divided into two kinds of people: People who divide the world into two kinds of people and people who think there’s way way way way way more than two kinds of people.
I’m in the latter group.
However, I have noticed that there are people who tend to follow recipes and read instructions, and people who don’t (or would rather not).
If you’re thinking right now about a story, this is what I’d like you to do:
Do it with every story, and let me know how it goes. I bet you’ll find it a much more organized and methodical approach to reporting.
Just a quick note to say that you should be receiving an email very soon from Elizabeth Stephens about your Videolicious account. This is Elizabeth. She’s bummed out that had to wear her glasses for the first week of classes. At least it rhymes.
Here’s a little how-to (though there are many others) put together by a journalism educators association.
Your first assignment: Create a short bio about yourself using Videolicious. Try to make us laugh while we learn about you. Upload it to your blog.
So it begins: your first week in the newsroom and the beginning of what is certain to be a pretty intense learning experience for you. It’s going to seem like a lot, at first, but you’ll get a handle on it, and, in the end, you’ll look back with awe at what you were able to do, this semester.
By putting in a steady and determined effort. Like these guys.
By spending a lot of time in the newsroom, at first, getting comfortable with how things work and getting to know your fellow reporters, the editors, the engagement and outreach team — everyone who makes the content and helps share it.
Spend some time checking off the tasks on The New Reporter’s Checklist. It’s a big help.
Spend some time reading what we’ve published in the Missourian over the summer and maybe even last spring. Watch some videos. Think about what’s going on in the community and how you can get a better understanding of the people we serve.
And do a story as quickly as possible. You don’t know what you’re doing? Well, maybe you need a recipe. Here’s one you can use over and over this semester.
It’s going to be great. I just know it.
Tuesday, we talked about a process for thinking through ethical situations, and I referred you to Poynter’s 10 questions to ask to make good decisions. Be reflective, not reflexive, in decision-making, involve other people with diverse points of view and don’t ever make a decision based on what other journalists are doing or have already done — and you will probably be okay.
Don’t you wish it were simpler?
Well, it’s just not, and the complexity is one of the things that I love about journalism. Embrace it, and you’re likely to feel stronger, smarter and better-prepared for whatever curve ball comes your way next.
So, here are your blog prompts for Thursday and end of the session (which is Saturday):
NUMBER ONE: We asked you to read Columbia University’s report on the Rolling Stone “Rape on Campus” debacle, and I asked you to think about confirmation bias and how this story ran off the rails.
Think about these questions before you blog:
Can you think of a time in your life or your reporting that you felt confirmation bias at work?
NUMBER TWO (waaay more fun): What did you learn over the past seven weeks in the newsroom or out in the world with your notebook, your smartphone and your reporter’s “hat” on that you wish you’d known about this whole business at the beginning? What advice would you give someone starting out in this class?
And that’s it.
I’ve loved being part of your learning experience, and I’m pretty sure Scott has, too. I hope you’ll come back for advanced reporting or some other newsroom class.
Hello. Take a look around next time you’re in the newsroom. These are your people for the next seven weeks.
And don’t forget to subscribe to this blog (scroll all the way to the bottom) for reading and discussion.
Ready, set, GO.
These stories offer a glimpse into the weird world of “professionalism,” how young women are expected to adapt to rapidly changing, innately biased work environments.