4 views on news coverage of Jamar Clark shooting and protests

Minneapolis NAACP president Nekima Levy-Pounds
Minneapolis NAACP president Nekima Levy-Pounds speaks to the media during an afternoon press conference at the Black Lives Matter protest site at the Minneapolis Police Department 4th Precinct November 30, 2015.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

As protesters continue to demonstrate in the wake of the shooting death of Jamar Clark, activists have expressed frustrations on how media frames stories involving black communities.

MPR News' Tom Weber hosted a discussion about mainstream media coverage of the ongoing protests at the Minneapolis Police Department's 4th Precinct.


An activist perspective

Adja Gildersleve, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, took issue with how media covered the shooting of Black Lives Matter protesters last week, which she said was "terrorism."

"When you look at the media, they didn't talk about it in that real way because [the suspects] were white men," she said. "But, however, if it's a black man, if it's people of color, they would have been shown as criminals, they would have been shown as terrorists."

Gildersleve said she finds mainstream media challenging and "damaging." Protesters can now use social media to directly communicate with their peers to tell their own stories, she said.

"We're using technology in a way that's easy to get information to masses of people in a short amount of time and that has been very useful for the movement," said Gildersleve. "If it wasn't for us live tweeting, live streaming by Unicorn Riot, if it wasn't for our Facebook and us trending on social media, the mainstream media wouldn't have been there."

A view from the alternative press

Adaobi Okolue, publisher at Twin Cities Daily Planet, also questioned the role of traditional media. She said without the protests, the mainstream press wouldn't have covered the killing of Clark.

"The protest is the sexy part and that's why the mainstream media comes, not necessarily because they are interested in the story," she said.

A perspective from the mainstream media

MPR News director Mike Edgerly says MPR News reporters have been at the scene of the shooting and protest from the start.

When pressed on the ethnic makeup of the reporters covering the story Edgerly said nine reporters, five of whom are people of color, have been covering the protests.

"The role of Black Lives Matter and social media has changed for the better our reporting here because we do get access now to a perspective that maybe would have been lost in a previous era in this country," Edgerly said.

"Black men dying in altercations with police has become a dominant narrative, a story in this country," he said. "It wouldn't have been so without groups like Black Lives Matter."

Historical context

Mainstream media had historically told "the white version of events" and did not interview black people, said John Craig Flournoy, Pulitzer Prize-winning former investigative reporter at Dallas Morning News.

"White reporters almost never interviewed blacks. During the Emmett Till trial of 1955, New York Times reporter John Popham did not interview a single black person," Flournoy said. "And this is something that continued through the entire [Civil Rights] movement."

"A big part of this is for the white press, the mainstream press, to realize their shortcomings and to try and overcome that," he added.

He said the Black Twitter movement is the "direct descendant of the black press," which often took a position on black issues and gave voice to African-Americans.

Flournoy, an assistant professor in the department of journalism at the University of Cincinnati, said reporters must understand communities they cover and should do more digging to get a deeper understanding.

"You doubt everything. Don't assume what the cops or the victim's family tells you is correct."

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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