Journalists must learn from Mizzou

Daily Editorial Board

Last month, the University of Missouri fired a communications professor who was captured on film shouting that she “need[ed] some muscle” to remove student journalists from a media-free “safe space.”
 
 
Melissa Click and other demonstrators physically blocked their encampments and pushed out those who tried to enter. The protesters defended their insulation by asserting their privacy rights.
 
 
“I am documenting this for a national news organization,” said Tim Tai, a student photographer freelancing the protest for ESPN. “[T]he First Amendment protects your right to be here and mine.”
 
 
Tai was not wrong. Neither was Mizzou for firing a professor who made violent threats. Still, there’s more to learn from the incident.
 
 
Journalists have a knee-jerk First Amendment defense when someone challenges them. But in this case, it only demonstrated why the protesters were barricading them from public property in the first place.
 
 
Tai could have reported that Mizzou was so embroiled in conflict that protesters preferred to cocoon themselves rather than share a historic school moment. Yet nowhere in the video does Tai ask his fellow students why they feel so threatened by his presence.
 
 
In this case — and surely in other instances of racially motivated turmoil — journalists’ lack of dialogue with protesters mirrors the lack of dialogue being decried by protesters.
 
 
As an institution tasked with training future newsmakers, the Minnesota Daily urges reporters — including our own — to remember that our craft demands we converse with the people we cover, not just assert our right to report.