Did local media tell the whole story of the Jamar Clark shooting and its aftermath? An all-Black forum featuring representatives of both the community and local media discussed the coverage last week at the Minneapolis Urban League’s Northside headquarters, only a block west of the 18-day encampment outside the Fourth Precinct police station.
Twin Cities Black Journalists (TCBJ), the NABJ’s local chapter, sponsored the December 17 forum, which included the MSR, Insight News, the Star Tribune, Black Lives Matter (BLM) Minneapolis Organizer Adja Gildersleve, Shiloh Temple Pastor Bishop Richard Howell, and Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds. Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) News Senior Reporter Brandt Williams moderated.
The Minneapolis Police Department also was invited but due to scheduling conflicts didn’t attend, Williams told the packed meeting room beforehand. When Williams asked what the local media missed in its coverage, Gildersleve said that the first night of the protest, members of a local television station “jumped out of their vehicle” and took videos of a damaged police car rather than talk to protesters.
“They were looking for something hot,” she pointed out. “That was one of the first interactions I had with the media.”
“We had reporters on the ground every day,” reported Maria Reeve, the Star Tribune’s deputy metro editor and the TCBJ president.
Al McFarlane, Insight News editor-in-chief, said that his paper had no choice but to cover the protest. “I live three blocks from here,” he pointed out.
It bothered Howell that the local media came “in hordes” at Clark’s funeral. His church on West Broadway hosted it and several others in recent months. He asked reporters to leave in order to be respectful to the family and the community in attendance, he recalled. “I’m a little concerned about the sensationalism [in the media].”
McFarlane cited as an example a community resident who told him that Clark, before he was shot by police, called the ambulance for his injured girlfriend. “What you got by implication and what you heard [and saw] on television and radio is, here is a maniac Black guy beating up a Black woman, and he deserves to be killed. That’s what they want you to believe. That’s the problem of supremacist White media, creating a story that categorizes and denigrates Black people that may get the story wrong.”
Levy-Pounds said, “It feels sometimes like the mainstream White media is the media arm of the City of Minneapolis and the police department. Oftentimes they are one-sided narratives that don’t include the voices of color.”
Gildersleve reiterated that she, other BLM members, and other protesters did not trust the mostly White local media: “They were trying to find stuff that was more entertaining [rather than] dig deeper into the larger context, the reason why we were out there in the first place,” she explained.
As a result, they only talked to reporters of color. “We wanted to uplift media and journalists of color because usually the reporters that show up are White reporters, and they don’t understand our experience. They [act like] they are entitled to our story and our space,” said Gildersleve.
Reeve argued that her paper’s reporters are in the community “talking to people in the neighborhood, reporting on the issues of the day. We have a room full of reporters — people of color and non-people of color — who understand the issues. We have considerable resources.”
MPR News Director Jonathan Blakely later told the MSR, “Not every member of the media lives in the community, but they need to know what is going on if they are going to report on it.”
“I think one of the biggest mistakes of media is they did not cover this story of police brutality…or find out why it got to this point,” countered Gildersleve.
Social media also was used extensively in the Clark shooting coverage, but Williams questioned its reliability.
“The technology has leveled the playing field to present a different analysis,” said McFarlane on the use of webcams and cell phones. “White media doesn’t have the same power to shape the dialogue as they had before.”
“We needed to verify and we needed to know it ourselves” before tweeting and retweeting, said Reeve.
“We have the power to tell our story,” said Gildersleve.
Gary Gilson, the former head of the now-defunct Minnesota News Council, also attended last week’s session. “Nobody was talking about television here tonight,” he said. “It was all about newspapers. [But] television is where most people get their news.
“The news media’s greatest sin is that they cover incidents rather than condition, how we live today. But to get news organizations like the Star Tribune to allocate resources to do it is what needs to be done. I don’t think they are going to do it on their own,” said Gilson.
Levy-Pounds said afterwards, “Our media need to hold themselves accountable and to make sure they are telling the whole story and not just reinforcing the narrative from the City or police department. They must be willing to listen to voices of color and give us the space to tell our side of the story.”
She also agreed with Gilson: “Our TV stations definitely need to be here. We have issues with them over the last year since they have been covering Black Lives Matter and the recent Justice for Jamar campaign. We challenged them, and some media got chased off such as KSTP [Channel] 5 because we don’t trust them.
“We know a lot of the media continue to perpetuate the negative racial stereotypes of African Americans. It divides people of color from the rest of Minnesota and creates fear. We are tired of it,” Levy-Pound said.
Reeve told the MSR she considered last week’s discussion at the Urban League “an unqualified success. It’s not about us coming in or anybody coming in from the outside.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.