Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Photographer

Teaching to the Wrong Test

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Melissa Click

Two University of Missouri faculty members are apologizing to journalists they tried to bully off the campus’ Carnahan Quad yesterday.

Assistant Professor of Mass Media, Melissa Click (shown) and Director of Greek Life, Janna Basler tried to prevent at least two journalists from covering an event called “Concerened Students 1950”, a student and faculty group that says it seeks the liberation of black collegiate students.

According to CBS, the event was promoted by the school and journalists were invited to attend.  But two days before the event, reporters were told not to attend.  Video reporter Mark Schierbecker and photographer Tim Tai were forced off campus, but not before Schierbecker’s camera captured Click yelling to other students to provide some “muscle” to help eject them from the event. Religious Studies Department chairman Richard J “Chip” Callahan, who was standing behind students blocking the videographer said to Tai when he appealed for help, “Don’t talk to me.  It’s not my problem”.   The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that Callahan and Click share a common address.

Schierbecker’s video has gone viral and has sparked an ironic debate over communications professors who censor with critics ranging from Jonathan Chait at the NY Times to Rod Dreher from the American Conservative condemning Click. CNN Money is reporting that Click has blocked access to her Twitter account while Basler has deleted her account.  She and Basler were also roundly criticized by other communications faculty for their behavior.

After the clash, Concerned Students 1950 tweeted an image of a flier upholding the First Amendment right of the media to be welcomed and showed their appreciation for the coverage.

Both Basler and Click have issued apologies.  Basler’s said, in part, “I regret how I handled the situation and am offering a public apology to the journalist involved.”  In Click’s statement, she said “I regret the language and strategies I used and sincerely apologize to the MU campus community and journalists at large for my behavior …”  Click has also resigned her courtesy appointment with the University’s School of Communications.  According to Linkedin, She has a B.A. in Business Administration from James Madison University and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The University clarified that Click is a professor of communications, not journalism.

But even that, it seems, is debatable.

To me, the worst part in all this is that something we thought could be depended on to bring us a good story; i.e. journalism, was attacked by the very people responsible for promoting it, while that thing that deserved to be highlighted, namely the continued injustices to blacks and other minorities, was sidelined by this ignorance and ridiculousness.  Even sadder is that students didn’t know they were helping do it to themselves.

Video image by Mark Schierbecker

Something’s Burning

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Something's Burning

Andrew Jennings is a Scottish investigative reporter who has been following the mismanagement and corruption at the European soccer agency, FIFA, for nearly 15 years. In a recent interview with NPR’s Melissa Block, he said he provided the FBI with internal financial documents in 2009 in an effort to help the Americans prosecute FIFA’s wrongdoing. The FBI, along with Interpol and a number of other law enforcement agencies around the world began arresting FIFA executives on Monday, June 1st, 2014.

Ms. Block asked Mr. Jennings if he felt he had violated his journalist integrity by providing those documents. Mr. Jennings adamantly said no, saying FIFA is a corrupt organization, everyone knew it was corrupt and little was being accomplished in the way of internal reform, which he believed it needed desperately. This again brings up the question of how much should a journalist insert themselves into the story and it reminds me of a story from J-school which is built on much historical precedence.

A photographer is photographing a protestor who is preparing to self-immolate himself. What should the photographer do? Should he keep taking pictures as the person sets themselves on fire in the most desperate act of political protest, or should he drop the camera and save the person from what would certainly be a graphic, horrible and painful death? According to Wikipedia, journalist and photographer Malcolm Brown won the World Press Photo of the Year in 1963 for choosing to take just such a photo. In it, a Vietnamese monk named Thich Quang Duc set himself ablaze in protest against the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government of President Ngo Dinh Diem.

There have been 133 self-immolations for political reasons and 10 for economic reasons since Brown’s photo. Journalism has since weighed in on the journalist’s responsibility to intervene. The Society of Professional Journalists cautions journalists in a release from January 2010: “Report the story; don’t become a part of it,”  Even in a crisis, the SPJ says  journalists must be objective.  Actions the SPJ defines as not objective include advocacy, self-promotion, offering favors for news and interviews, injecting oneself into the story, or creating news events.

But Roy Peter Clark, a Pulitzer Prize winning author who recently wrote for the journalism ethics organization, the Poynter Institute, said “That standard – to observe, cover, but not intervene – is surely not absolute.” He continues, “There are those rare moments when a reporter (or other professional, such as a psychiatrist) realizes that life or public safety is on the line.  That professional may choose to assume a different role, to put on a citizen’s hat rather than a journalist’s”. Journalists have a responsibility to tell the story in a way that insures their credibility by not showing bias. But they also have a responsibility to be human beings.  That can be a tricky wire to walk.

What is the life or public safety issue regarding FIFA?  Some have argued that the thousands of immigrant workers that have died in Qatar’s hellish heat as they prepare the country for a possibly ill-gotten 2022 World Cup tournament might be cause for intervention.  Others like Mr. Jennings, simply see organizations like FIFA stealing what is precious to the people, and believe the people don’t deserve to be lied to or stolen from.

“What would you do”, asks Mr. Clark, “if you saw someone trying to set himself on fire?  I would probably run for my own safety, yell like crazy, and point out the danger to others.  I know Good Samaritans, braver than I, who would try to stop the action.  I doubt I would take out my cell phone and make a video of the self-immolation”.

Mr. Jennings made a similar choice. Under extraordinary circumstances, he heeded the call of the FBI to help them put out a different kind of fire.