Tuesday, September 29, 2015

More Harm Than Good: Journalists and Ferguson

Emily Koudelka

"Minimize harm." A simple two words, yet they make up an entire section of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics and arguably, in my opinion, one of the most important sections.  Despite the clear precedent,  due to recent advances in media and journalism, journalist constantly find themselves battling the line of freedom of speech and minimizing harm.

This constant dancing on this line, became prevalent during the Ferguson events.  Journalists live tweeted the locations of demonstrators and their actions giving the authorities information on where they could corral the activists.  These actions clearly go against the code journalists clearly agree to to minimize harm. Yet in this hyper competitive market that demands information here and now, are journalists not pushed to tweet and put out such things, in order to gain more followers or grab more attention for their specific market.

In Christopher Zara's article for "The International Business Times," he highlights how this battle of the press and authorities.  He argues that the press' interference completely overshadowed the Ferguson case and tragedy.  He highlights the ever present new precedent that individual journalists make their own brand personality and not have it be the overall new's outlets personality, make what happened with the live tweets an unavoidable incident.   Yet, he also argues the valid statement that there is a valid story in talking about the police crackdown, but when it gets highlighted too much it makes the journalist out out to be exploiters or only have eyes for themselves and not their communities.

An interesting look at the topic was revealed during a Q&A on the Huffington Post's coverage of Ferguson.  The Huffington Post spent $40,000 on crowd funding a portion of their Ferguson coverage in order to "keep a presence."  Furthermore, the outlet stated that 25% of their stories surrounding Ferguson sourced from Twitter, naming the social media outlet as "invaluable."  Also interesting, the Huffington Post stated that they know their readers have an interest in police militarization, so gathering stories surrounding that and Ferguson generated them the most buzz.  This raises the question of over shadowing the actual story once again by focusing on the journalist and the authorities.

We swear as journalists that we shall minimize harm, and in doing so promise to keep in mind everyone involved.  Yet the principle we hold so dear and true is constantly coming into question as we battle the new media pressures and freedom of speech.  The way in which Ferguson was handled called into questions these exact issues and almost overshadowed the true tragedy of the event.

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