Author Sandro

13.06.2020 17:14

Killing of George Floyd - Can Media Be Objective?

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While tens of thousands protest against racism and oppression, others criticize the means of their protest. Skeptics note that the riots are getting out of hand, while supporters of the rallies remind us - It’s important to remember what protesters stand for. Some say that we should care and sympathize more, others believe that even valid anger isn’t a justification for violence and looting. 

Should the media criticize the means of protests? -  Even in our newsroom, a friendly conversation turned into a boiling discussion, with a wide range of loud, contradictory opinions. Huge American newsrooms are no exception. The inner turmoil and staff revolts at “The New York Times”, “The Washington Post”, “Philadelphia Inquirer” and other major outlets remind us that many answers still can’t be found in the text-books or editorial policies.


“Lack of sensitivity”

 Could and should journalism be objective? - this old thesis is now being reimagined by the number of American journalists. Among them are black reporters, who openly question the credibility of their newsrooms. They claim that for years, other colleagues did not welcome them to speak about racism, to say the least. Former Washington Post correspondent Wesley Lowery claims, that more black reporters should cover the problem of racism, as their perspective is different and it’s an important part of the picture.

A lack of sensitivity and understanding towards the problems of the black community - these are the allegations recently brought up by the journalists of two major newspapers to their editors. 

James Bennet, former Opinion editor of “The New York Times” has lost his place “thanks” to an opinion piece,” “Send in the troops” - by republican senator Tom Cotton. Some “NYT” employees stated that “these messages undermine the work we do, in the newsroom and in opinion, and are an affront to our standards for ethical and accurate reporting for the public’s interest”.

Is it even possible for human beings to be objective? Well, it used to be a reporting standard for years. But the new generation of journalists suggests that the media shouldn’t pretend to be objective about topics like racism and police brutality. They believe that rules of reporting no longer make sense and are outdated. Especially after the new waves of police violence and the red lines being crossed almost every day. 

Yamiche Alcindor, the former correspondent for “USA TODAY”, tells about her reporting experience from protests in the town of Ferguson. She remembers how the police imposed the rule which prohibited protesters from gathering in one place. This made her walk endlessly while interviewing protestors. The reporter admits that later she realized - the rule itself was unconstitutional. 

“It changed the way I thought about reporting — it made me think I have to question everything, including the rules of our reporting,” -  she claims.

Watching the Watchmen

But how about the current rules? Are they followed properly? The range of allegations towards media varies from sanitizing George Floyd’s story by not paying attention to his previous criminal records, to undermining the very fact of racism and bias of police forces against the black community. Jason Johnson, a journalism professor at Morgan State University thinks that the current coverage fails to raise enough conversations about the roots of the protests. 

But it’s not the only problem - Although, the protesters themselves are the ones who condemn the looting and the use of violence, critics claim that the media sometimes fails to draw the line between peaceful protests and riots. Simply because the priorities of reporting are different.  

“Our press is driven by eyeballs, and attention, and clicks, and advertising, and passion, and raising the anxiety of viewers”, - says Professor Johnson.

Which term is more appropriate “Murder” or “Killing”? Is it appropriate to use the audio of George Floyd’s last words? When is it a protest, and when a riot?  Kelly McBride from NPR -  American National Public Radio - explores these issues and offers her solution: “Embrace precision, be descriptive, use more words”.

No getting back to normal

Racism and police brutality - these two separate stories told by American media used to be interconnected for decades. However, the killing of George Floyd turns out to be an event that triggered steam out from the boiling kettle. The reasons and circumstances behind the biggest civic unrest since the 1960s still need to be analyzed. 

Following this wave of protests, more and more journalists openly declare that their core value should be not the perception of objectivity, but the truth. But it appears that truth is in the eyes of the beholder, especially where several values are in conflict... Besides, recent history shows that when we allow only one “truth” and exclude viewpoints, the things might get really nasty. 

Maybe it’s all about compassion? Can we really walk in the other guy’s shoes? And, moreover, should we?  These and many other questions are now troubling the American society. And with the majority of dilemmas being still unsolved, more and more people seem to agree that there’s no getting back to normal.  Things won’t be the same. Simply because too many people do not agree to accept what was once silently accepted as “usual”.

Cover picture: Khareba Kavtaradze

Illustration: Shutterstock


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