Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Media and a movement at the University of Missouri

A New York Times piece by Austin Huguelet and Daniel Victor centers on the effort by a student photographer to take pictures of a tent city protesters had erected on campus.

The article paints a sympathetic portrait of photographer Tim Tai and other reporters, while implicitly demonizing the protesters. One professor of mass media is singled out for an exceedingly un-journalistic remark: "Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here." (The reporter in question wasn't Tai.)

This is an astonishingly sloppy piece by the Times. Nowhere does it indicate that the reporters even tried to contact the protesters to get their side of the story. Bits of quoted remarks suggest that the protesters might have been trying to protect an area set aside for their own privacy; this is an impulse anyone who has ever been the unwilling center of a media story (e.g., a natural disaster) can understand.

When one is in the midst of a newsworthy event, there will be unwanted scrutiny. If you had a hand in creating that event, as the protesters did, you have a lot less room to complain of that scrutiny. That doesn't mean you have no room to complain. You haven't entirely given up your privacy. The Times' article is deeply unfair to the protesters. It's the kind of piece that makes people suspicious that the media exists solely to report on — or perhaps to gin up — conflict.

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