Media now part of the problem in Ferguson

08/20/2014 7:28 AM

08/20/2014 7:51 AM

More members of the media covering the protests in Ferguson, Mo., are beginning to talk about how their presence is affecting — even escalating — the problems such as confrontations with law enforcement officers.

And much of that scrutiny is playing out on social media.

Take a look at some Twitter conversations among media members as Tuesday night bled into Wednesday morning, which ended with more arrests but no major troubles on the streets of the St. Louis suburb.

Early Tuesday evening, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Paul Hampel (@phampel) tweeted, “My turn again to cover #Ferguson tonite and hearing from vet journos that last night’s riot felt like total show for them.”

Later came this tweet from Fox News analyst Howard Kurtz (@HowardKurtz), “Has Ferguson become a television show, with violence fueling the ratings?”

CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) tartly replied, “The answer is no.”

But that exchange was followed later by some more examination of what was happening in Ferguson.

Los Angeles Times national reporter Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) tweeted, “@trymainelee says, and I agree, that media has become an accelerant at this point.”

Trymaine Lee is a national reporter for MSNBC.

When I responded to Pearce with my own tweet, “Sad but sounds true,” another follower on Twitter responded to both of us: “The media is doing nothing to help the situation... AS USUAL.”

That prompted Lee of MSNBC to tweet back to us: “I wouldn’t go that far. I’m just saying the reporter to regular person ratio is.. never mind.”

There were other indications during the night that the media know they have become a part of the story, as reporters and photographers are arrested, with those occasions vigorously covered by their colleagues.

Earlier Tuesday evening, Jonathan Shorman (@jshormanNL), Missouri statehouse reporter at the Springfield News-Leader, tweeted, “Largest crowd appears to be next to CNN cameras. Police do not seem to be enforcing move along requirement.”

Pearce of the L.A. Times also took note of CNN’s presence: “Having Anderson Cooper perched on a sidewalk probably not good recipe for keeping people moving.”

And much later in the evening, Nick Pistor (@nickpistor), a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter, noted, “Two media people per protester!”

Here comes the big and necessary caveat:

If the media are part of the problem in Ferguson, they also are part of the solution.

Their cameras and other newsgathering devices have to be there, chronicling what’s happening.

As Lee of MSNBC noted in a tweet early Wednesday morning, capturing the double-edged sword of media coverage, “We NEED to be here. The visual of all the cameras chasing after folks is just disturbing to me.”

To reach editorial page columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.

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