Dear American Media,
You know what it feels like? Now this is just a feeling mind you, as I certainly don’t have the time to do the intense media analysis that would be necessary to verify the feeling, but it feels like the nations leaders and the mainstream press made some significant mistakes in handling the Ferguson and NYC deaths of black men at the hands of police officers.
The press and many national leaders seemed to:
1. Focus only on the problem and ignored solutions or solution makers.
2. Focus only on the grief and anger in the black community toward police officers.
3. Largely ignore the perspective of the police officers.
4. Largely ignore any voices calling for peace or reconciliation.
5. Appear to give extra press to rioting and looting, without assigning designations like “criminals, radicals” or “extremists” to the rioters, thus enabling such rioters to feel a moral imperative to do continue in such criminal and destructive activity.
6. Largely ignore the faith-based community that was very present around these situations and could have acted as peacemakers and positive voices within the context of the stories.
7. Largely ignore the numerous, significant challenges faced by black males other than police scrutiny that might be causal factors for police scrutiny, and might be significant to the greater story here.
8. Avoid any voices calling for self-examination within the black community while requiring this of the police community.
9. Allow protesters to call for the death of police officers without allowing for alternate voices to condemn such chants outright.
10. Lump all black men and women into a singular category and blur the multifaceted nature of this robust part of our nation.
The list could go on, but you get the point. What it boils down to in my perspective is many of the stories I read and viewed seemed to be one sided –
And then an impressionable, apparently mentally unstable guy, who has been hearing all the vitriol (and no solutions) decides to actually do what everyone is saying – seemingly the only solution provided for the current situation that got press – he kills a cop.
Now what? Now it is very possible that there will be more profiling, not less, more accidental shootings, not less, more fear of black males, not less (which will only make it more difficult for them to succeed mind you, and life is difficult enough for black males in this nation), and we are worse off than we were before.
Perhaps this was a horrific but necessary growing pain in the development of our nation – though many voices (like mine) were calling for just a bit more responsibility in the national reporting – primarily regarding the situation in Ferguson.
Next time American mainstream press:
1. Take a little extra time to find solution makers and/or peacemakers, not just the loudest or most prominent voices (don’t ignore the loud or the prominent, just include the solution and peace makers.).
2. Take a little time to show both sides of the story.
3. Don’t jump to conclusions. (Notice how slow people were to assume motives when the two police officers were shot. Show the same restraint for the police.)
4. Include the faith-based community in your reporting – they are a significant voice, and generally are a peacemaking and empowering voice.
5. Be consistent in your labeling, and don’t be afraid to label a spade a spade.
My conclusion: when such a divisive issue occurs, it is the responsibility of the press to give voice to all sides of the story. It is the responsibility of the responsible in the press at least, to give voice to those calling for reconciliation and/or offering solutions – even if the highest officials in the nation avoid doing so. Give voice to the voiceless peacemakers too.
Michael R. Finch
Finch works as a professor and student media adviser at Lee University. He writes about digital media, journalism and the intersection of media and faith. All rights reserved. about.me/michael.finch