The importance of understanding subjects


Mitch Bennett via Flickr CC

The entrance to the University of Missouri. The debate of freedom of press started after a student journalist was stopped from taking photos of a protest.

by Bri Branscomb, Guest Writer

Brianna Branscomb is a guest writer for the site and is in Mrs. Bell’s Journalism I class.

Video evidence emerged of journalist Tim Tai being blocked entrance into the protest group Concerned Student 1950’s safe grounds. The students, who have been on a hunger strike in an attempt to combat the racism on their campus and to make the president of the university step down, linked arms and walked forwards to block out any media trying to get pictures of the safe grounds or to interview any of the protesters. Whenever Tai tried to get into the grounds, he was told to leave, and when he did not do so, was threatened with a forceful removal. When he tried to take pictures, protesters put their hands up to block his view. No one would let him get his story. Any attempt he made was shut down. In wake of the video released showing this, many news media outlets rushed to the defense of Tai. Journalists wrote scathing articles, calling the protesters ignorant, saying that they weaponized the use of a safe space. Protesters were told that they were breaking the law, ignoring the first amendment and not letting media in simply because they were childish. There is a problem with this. Yes, Tai had every right legal right to go into the safe grounds. Yes, the first amendment does protect a reporter’s right to go into any public space they wish and record what goes on there. Yes, the protesters did block Tai’s entrance, but there are other things to consider.

One of the most important things to recognize when considering the actions of Concerned Student 1950 is that this is a black protest group combatting racism. American mainstream media has a long history of twisting and misrepresenting black pain. One report shows that 23 different local news stations only showed the black community in their stories when it was about criminal events. This same report recognizes the fact that this helps create the type of bias that Concerned Student 1950 was trying to combat. When the riots began in Ferguson and Baltimore, the black community was presented as a violent mob with the mission in mind to tear their town apart. What was not shown was the level of frustration and loss they felt after losing their youth for being black and therefore, to many people in our country today, ‘threatening’. Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown were criminalized into their deaths as if being a troubled boy was an excuse for their murders. There is not fair representation. White youth who go and slaughter innocent people are declared mentally ill by the same news outlets that proclaim the danger of the black boy lying on the ground with bullets in his back.

Those apart of Concerned Student 1950 had justifiable reasons to not want media on their safe grounds. They know of the pain that the black community suffers as a result of their representation in the media. It is something they live every day. It is important not to forget the very reason why the students were protesting. They were experiencing racism everywhere they went on campus. When the group went on the hunger strike, they secured an area that was just them. Where no one would see their blackness and turn away in disgust. Where they would not be stereotyped and forced into a mold that was not true to who they are. When a journalist tried to infiltrate that haven, they understandably had a negative reaction to it. It’s easy to understand why journalists were upset by the actions of Concerned Student 1950. It is necessary for the media to be able to cover significant and historical stories. The group was blocking a man just trying to do his job. There were other ways to get their story, however. They could have taken pictures of the students locking arms around the safe grounds, which could be a story within itself. They could have found and interviewed students outside of the area that were involved and willing to talk. It is important of journalists to be able to do their jobs, yes. It is more important to respect who is being covered in order to better understand where they are coming from and why they are in pain, to get the full story.