Sorry, we could not find the combination you entered »
Please enter your email and we will send you an email where you can pick a new password.
Reset password:
 

free

 
By Thomas Baekdal - June 2020

What we in the media need to learn from the #BlackLivesMatter protests

The past couple of weeks of Black Lives Matter protests have been insane.

I don't even have words to really describe the horrible things we have seen. Like many others in the media industry, I have spent considerable time following the protest against racism and police brutality, and analyzing how we in the media covered it.

Note: In this article, I am including many links to events that took place during the protests, many of which involve very disturbing images. I have marked those tweets with [caution] in case you don't want to see them.

The protests themselves were kind of beautiful, with thousands of people all over the world standing up against racism and police brutality. But the police reacted in a way that was really disturbing.

Instead of acting like professional police officers, the police decided to become counter-protesters. This is a pattern we have seen before. Heidi Reynolds-Stenson, assistant professor of sociology at CSU Pueblo, pointed out a study about this:

Think cops are being more violent in part because these protests are ABOUT THEM? You're right. Analyzing 1000's of protests from 1960-95, I find police are more likely to show up, arrest, and use force at police brutality protests than other protests.

This was what happened again in the US. In so many places, the police weren't there to maintain order. They were out there to protest against the protesters. And they did so by escalating conflicts, by using excessive force, by resorting to violent attacks and brutality.

And in so doing, they didn't care about their role as police officers. They didn't care that the press was there to report things. They were out there to fight back.

The result was absolutely shocking. At the time I'm writing this, there have been 726 cases of police brutality. Cases where we have video evidence, as collected in this spreadsheet(by @greg_doucette). And this number just keeps going up and up.

At the same time, when I write this, there have been 383 attacks on the press (and still increasing), as reported by the US Press Freedom Tracker. At least 271 of these were perpetrated by the police, and many were acts of violence (physical attacks, pepper sprayings, being shot at, and more) against journalists.

And when we look at which media companies have been affected by this, the attacks happened everywhere and against anyone. Of those who have been identified, the US Press Freedom Tracker reported this:

This is unbelievable. And in many of these cases, we could see the 'Enemy of the people'-effect, where the police, knowing full well that we were the press [caution], attacked us anyway [caution], calling us part of the problem.

And there were many cases like this, where a group of journalists were standing far away from any protesters, with the cameras reporting, and then the police turned around and just shot at them [caution] as if they were target practice. Or in this case [caution], where a journalist, wearing a huge camera and helmet marked 'PRESS' is specifically attacked.

And don't forget, when you are shot by a rubber bullet, it causes real damage. We heard about a journalist losing one of her eyes, and another journalist posted this picture of her injuries [caution].

And I could go on and on. During the past weeks, this never stopped.

But as bad as it is for the press, we must also remember that it was just as bad when it happened to normal peaceful protesters. In fact, they were attacked even more.

Remember, in the US Constitution, the First Amendment says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

What this means is that the press and the protesters have equal rights to be there. And an attack on one is just as bad as an attack on the other.

What was even more disturbing was when the police started to just drive around and randomly shoot at black people walking down the street [caution]. On Twitter, I called this terrorism, and I'm not saying that as a form of exaggeration.

If you look up the definition of terrorism in the dictionary, it's defined like this:

Terrorism: The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.

Driving down a street and just randomly shooting at people is terrorism. There is no other word for this.

And we saw this in many other cases. Here is another example where people are just standing next to a road, and the police drive by, decide to stop and just randomly pepper spray people [caution]. Or what about this example, where the police are walking down the street, and decide to just shoot at people in their own homes [caution].

"Oh", white people say. "It was curfew. They were not supposed to be there." But that's not true. First of all, in one of these cases, there wasn't a curfew in place. But more than that, that's not how a curfew works. The police are not allowed to attack people within their own property regardless if there is a curfew or not.

More than that, when many cities across the US imposed curfews, they exempted the press (because of the First Amendment). But remember, that is not what the US Constitution says. It doesn't say the press is exempted but peaceful protesters are not. It says that both groups have the same rights.

What we saw here was just wrong.

I could go on and on about this, and there were so many other things that happened. But as a media analyst, most of my analysis was on what we did in the press. What good things we did, but also, what we did wrong.

So, let me now focus the rest of this article inward, and let me talk about the press and what we can learn from all of this.

Looking at ourselves

There are obviously many ways we could analyze the media, but what I did was to consider it in relation to four different factors. These were:

Each of these are absolutely critical for the future of newspapers, and we have seen so many examples in the past where newspapers have failed because they did not do well within these four elements.

So how did we do as newspapers in relation to the protests?

Well, I have some good news for you, and some bad news. The good news is that I saw many examples of absolutely excellent reporting. In fact, I have total respect and admiration for the many journalists who were "out there" reporting from the scene.

Mistakes were made, but overall, I think the reporting on the ground was very good.

However, the place things went wrong was back in the newsrooms or the studios. Here we saw a very clear problem with the focus, with the narrative, and with the editing.

We also saw a serious problem when it came to press conferences. The way most newspapers reported from these was ... abysmal. I'm sorry for using such a strong word to describe this, but I saw so many examples of 'reports' from press conferences that I can only describe as completely lacking any form of value and directly misinforming the public.

I was really sad to see this, because it illustrates a lack of understanding of what journalism is actually supposed to be.

We did learn though. In fact, the media industry changed a lot over the first week.

I can illustrate this in a very simple way. Michael Calderone, Senior Editor of VFHIVE put together a collection of front pages first from May 31 (the first Sunday of the protests), and then again from June 7 (the second Sunday of the protests). The difference is insane.

So let me talk about the difference between the first and the second week.

Here is what the focus looked like from the first Sunday:

Just look at this. Look at the style of pictures and the headlines. They say:

This is so bad. Almost every newspaper did something like this, and look at the narrative here. What is this telling the public?

It's telling the public that the protesters are bad, that they are violent, that they are rioting, that they are looting, and that they are only out there to cause damage.

At the same time, the city leaders and the police are presented as those who are peaceful and calling for calm.

What this also illustrates is the incredible level of 'whiteness' across newspapers.

Let me ask you a simple question: If a newspaper was instead run by black journalists and editors, would they have presented the news this way?

The answer is obvious. No they wouldn't.

Olivia Paschal, Staff Reporter of Facing South explained this problem well in a Twitter thread on May 29th. She talks about how the media, in the past, has often been on the side of the white oppressors.

As she wrote:

A few years ago I spent some time in newspaper archives looking at how the black press & the white press covered the 1919 Elaine Massacre, when white posses murdered hundreds of black people after black sharecroppers attempted to unionize and demand fair prices for their cotton.
The white planters' narrative of black insurrection was uncritically accepted by white newspapers,-including local papers & the New York Times, which referred to the unionizing sharecroppers as "insurrectionists" and "rioters." This is a NYT Sunday photo spread from Oct 1919
Mobs & police-led posses of white men chased down and murdered black sharecroppers. The National Guard was called in and, by some accounts, contributed to the slaughter. But you wouldn't know this if you read only the "legacy media" accounts (also NYT)".
Here's how black newspapers covered the same events, at the same time: with clarity, truth, and urgency, and without taking the powerful at their word (Cleveland Gazette here, & similar articles in Chicago Defender, The Crisis, etc)".
The narrative of black criminality propagated by "mainstream" white papers was obviously, provably false. But telling that story-emphasizing perceived "violence" of the "rioters"-allowed white readers to forget the root problem: the deep economic injustices of sharecropping.
And a century after Elaine, it's obvious that the black press was the only press holding power's feet to the fire back then. The rest were happy to sit back and accept the narrative terms of the powerful. That decision had consequences then and it has consequences now.

I find it astonishing that after 100 years, we are still doing this. And this continued in so many different ways.

Here for instance, is a newspaper telling people to go home.

You may argue that you are 'just reporting', but look at the narrative here. You are helping those in power (the mayor), to provide exposure to the message that black people should not protest against police brutality, under the excuse that a tiny fraction of the protesters did something violent.

It's the same as 100 years ago.

There have been many times where we, on live TV, would see clear examples of police violence. And yet the chyron on the screen would say the opposite.

One example is this one [caution], where a SWAT team shows up, and violently pushes an elderly man with a cane to the ground. There were no protesters anywhere near...and yet, look at what it said on the screen.

Another example of this was when one of CNN's reporters was arrested on live TV. Again, look what it said on the screen.

There were so many examples of this.

And yes, you might say that they didn't know this was going to happen, and that they were in the middle of reporting about the violent protesters. But that's the point. As the press, we went out there and talked about how it was the protesters who were violent, when again and again, something else actually ended up happening.

It illustrates how we as the press were out of touch with things. Our predefined focus was that it was the protesters who were the bad ones.

What we also saw, in many cases, was that it was actually the police who were the instigators of violence. Just the slightest provocation was immediately responded to with a 'show of force'.

A girl approached the police to give them flowers. She was arrested. A black guy wanted to give the police free food. He was shot. Someone pointed an umbrella at the police, they immediately responded with tear gas and flash bangs. Some protesters blocked a street, and the police decided to literally drive into them [caution].

There were hundreds of examples of this. The police kept escalating when they should have deescalated.

But in the media, we kept telling people "the protesters turned violent".

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that all the protesters were peaceful. We did also see examples of protesters being violent. We saw windows getting smashed, cars damaged, and people throwing things at the police, and examples of looting.

But remember two things about this.

First is the matter of focus. There were tens of thousands of protesters in each of the major cities, and of those only a tiny fraction ever did something violent.

This is not just true for this protest. It's true for most protests. The violent elements do not in any way represent the whole. So it's misleading for us in the press to focus on it in this way.

And we see the effect of this. In a study by YouGov (thanks to Ceynep Tufekci for the heads up), they asked: "How would you describe the protests in Minneapolis?"

The result was this:

This is crazy. The majority of the public now believes that the protests were violent. This is not true.

Yes, there were examples of violence, but it wasn't 'mostly violent'. What you see here is a very clear and measurable example of how our focus in the media ends up misinforming the public.

It was the same with the lootings. In the early days of the protests, the media talked about the looting as something done by the protesters.

Below is a picture of one such example, and here is another example.

And we also saw many examples of people showing up to the protests dressed like this:

These are not protesters. You don't dress up like a ninja to go to a protest.

Let me show you what actual protesters look like. They look like normal people. Like you and me. Yes, most people were wearing masks, but that was because of COVID-19.

The problem here is that, as journalists, we know this. Every journalist out there covering this, and every editor back at the newsroom knows that actual protesters look like normal people ... and yet, in article after article, and in TV broadcasts, we turned our cameras on people who didn't look like protesters and told people that the protesters had started looting stores.

In an even worse example is a tweet from ABC7 News. It said:

SKY7 was overhead as a fight broke out between a demonstrator and police during a #GeorgeFloyd protest in San Jose.

But when you look at the actual video [caution], you see that was in no way what happened. What actually happened was that a person, with his phone in hand recording the police, was first shot at by the police and then violently attacked, again by the police.

This is not a 'fight broke out'.

Another but less violent example was this headline from Reuters:

Reuters is not wrong that the global stature of the US has taken a dramatic nosedive over the past four years, we can see this in study after study. But the point is again, to look at how this is framed. Reuters is saying that it's the 'protests' that may be the last straw. But this is not correct.

Let's see what happens if we edit this. What if we wrote this instead?

You see what I mean? First of all, the second headline (edited by me) is far more accurate. And more importantly, it keeps the focus on the real issue. The problem in the US isn't that people are protesting. The problem in the US is the violence committed by the police and the political inaction to do something about it.

This is another example of how we are helping distort reality. Because once we in the press started reporting about it this way, the people in power used it to their advantage.

We saw mayors and the police calling for an end to violence (meaning the violence done by protesters, not their own violence), and when journalists started asking politicians about police brutality, many used the focus on the violent protesters as an excuse to deflect the questions.

As Kasie Hunt from NBCNews reported:

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.: "I was grateful for the president's leadership." Says George Floyd was murdered but looting is not acceptable.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, when asked if what we saw at the White House last night was an abuse of power: "By the protestors, yes.

And this was a narrative that we started seeing more and more. People kept saying: "Yes the protests are important, but the violence committed by the protesters must stop" and in the press, we helped this along.

And as comedian Ashley Nicole Black tweeted:

I keep seeing news anchors say "It's unfortunate that the looters are taking attention away from the real issues" while they, the media, talk about looting instead of the real issues.

Again, we (i.e. the press) lost our focus, and we misled the public by focusing the story on just a tiny part of what was going on. And we helped those in power (the politicians and police) deflect the focus away from the problem of police brutality and racism.

As one person commented, there are two ways to talk about this. One is like this:

It's horrible that a black man was killed, but destroying property has to stop.

Another way is to say this:

It's horrible that property is being destroyed, but killing innocent black people has to stop.

Just step back for a second and think about this. In the press, we did the former. On one side we have police brutality and a black man being strangled to death. On the other side we have a few broken windows or damaged cars ... and we in the press focused our stories so that the broken windows were the bigger problem.

We should be incredibly ashamed about this.

Finally, we saw the problem with the press conference. Time and time again, reporters went to press conferences and merely reported what those in power said.

Under normal circumstances, this would not be a problem, but what we saw in the US was that the police were not acting like the police. And so, there were countless examples where the police chiefs were directly lying about what happened.

One example was after the arrest of the journalist from CNN. This was the statement that they made:

The problem, of course, was that this was not even remotely true. The entire arrest happened on live TV. We could all see and hear exactly what took place, and this wasn't it.

And we saw this again and again. More than that, many articles followed a similar pattern. They would first 'report' what the police or the politicians were saying (without questioning it), and then they would have everyone else 'respond to that' ... only mentioning other factors at the very end of the article.

Here is a breakdown of one such article (but this was a general pattern).

This article is allowing those in power to completely define the editorial focus, and you have everyone else center around that.

In this case, those in power said that protesters had turned violent and pointed out the problem with that. So you as a newspaper reported about how they were turning violent, how the police was trying to calm things down, what a politician from an opposing party had to say to this, how other people reacted to the violent protests ... and only after all of this did you write a little bit about how the protests were actually peaceful.

This is not good journalism.

And so, we come back to the original four questions that I was using as my guide for how to analyze this.

The answer to the first three of these is ... no! The answer to the last one is... bad.

It was very clear that we, as press, were not in any way part of the community. We did not listen to what the public actually did or said, and we did not report about this from the perspective of our own local readers.

We also did not keep people informed. Sure, we reported about a lot of different things, but the overall narrative was distorted and very one-sided. If you had a protester on one side and the police on the other, the overwhelming narrative was that the protesters were bad and the police were just trying to do their job.

We completely failed to hold those in power to account. Instead, we actually helped those in power deflect the issue away from the problem of police brutality making it instead about the problem of violent protesters.

And, we could see, measured in studies, how this form of journalism caused the public to become misinformed.

We did not at all do a good job the first week of the protests.

Also, while all of these examples looked at US news sites, the same thing applies to Europe. In France, we saw thousands of people peacefully protesting in Paris, but when I opened up the newspapers this morning, the first article was titled "protesters turned violent in France".

...but then things changed (well, kind of)

As the number of cases of police brutality kept coming, including the many attacks on journalists, and especially after Trump ordered peaceful protesters to be violently removed so that he could go to a church for a photo-op, the media started (very slowly) to change their focus.

Remember the collection of front pages put together by Michael Calderone? Here is how the newspapers looked the second Sunday.

Just look at how big a difference there is. Now the headlines say:

It's an astonishing difference!

What we also saw was a massive shift in public sentiment. For instance, here is a graph showing the change in support for Black Lives Matter, based on data from Civiqs.

Suddenly, we started to get it (even though the polarization is still very real, not just in the US, but also in many countries in Europe).

We also started to see a much greater focus on holding those in power to account, although often it was more in relation to the freedom of the press than the actual racism.

Overall we started to see a much more focused press, and one that wasn't just reporting about what those in power wanted us to talk about.

This was good.

And as the next week went on, we started to see other effects as well, like brands and media companies having to look inward and answer for their own problems with racism (I wrote more about this in my newsletter).

Obviously, there is still a long way to go, but we are starting to see real change.

But this leads us to another question, which is: What is the role of the press?

The future of the press

If you ask someone from a traditional background about the role of the press, they would probably tell you that it's a combination of three things:

First, the role of the press is to be the bringer of information. Secondly, they would say that the role of the press is to connect people to diverse views, and finally, they will say that it's the role of the press to hold those in power to account.

This model was fine back in the 1980s, but this is not the world that we live in anymore.

First of all, today, we have the internet, and for better or worse, it means that people now have 100s of other ways of getting information. This changes the role of the press.

I talked about this in a previous article about how to build trust. I explained it this way:


Imagine that you walk into a room where a thousand people are talking and doing different things all at once, and you are completely overwhelmed by this. There are too many voices, many of which are conflicting with each other. You have no idea what is going on and you have no idea who to trust.

But then, over in the corner, you spot a journalist and immediately you think "I'm saved. She will know what is going on!"

So you walk over to the journalist, you introduce yourself and say:

You: "Crazy room! Everyone is talking.

Journalists: "Yeah!

You: "So, what's really going on?"

And then this journalist starts to just report what everyone is saying. She tells me that this person said that, and then this other person contradicted it by saying something else, but then someone else saw that and did this, and then this group over there did something else, all the while two other people talked about something, while another interjected, while....

And you say, "No, no no... stop! This is not what I want. I don't want you to just report to me everything that these 1000s of people are doing. I'm right here in this room with you. I can see that for myself.

The reason I came to you as a journalist was because I wanted to be enlightened. I looked at this room of 1000 people, and it's a total mess. I don't know who to trust or where to turn. So I went to you as a journalist. But if all you are doing is to report the news, you are not helping me in any way, and worse, I don't know if any of the things you say can be trusted either.

You are just part of the noise.


You see what I mean? Just reporting things is not a valuable form of journalism in a world where we already have information coming to us from all sides.

More than that, when you just report, you are saying that you take no responsibility for what the readers end up doing. You just give your readers all these news reports, and then you leave it up to the reader to decide on their own what part of it they want to trust.

This is a fundamental mistake, and we know that it doesn't work. The public is not capable of just reading 100s of conflicting news reports and then spotting which is which.

There is an old quote that I love that explains this well:

If one person says it's raining, and another person says it's not, our job, as journalists, isn't to cover what these people said, but to look out the window and see what is actually going on.

So think about this in relation to the protests. Apart from the obvious problems described above, our focus on just reporting made it harder for people to understand what was going on.

This also applies to when newspapers say that they connect people to diverse views.

We see a lot of this, both in normal news coverage where journalists are merely interviewing or reporting what someone said, but also in editorials where newspapers provide a platform.

The first problem is that, in the press, we keep thinking that the people who need to be heard are the agitators.

The result is that, when you look at news coverage, the people we keep providing a platform to are the same people who already have a voice.

This is not just unique to the recent protests, it's a problem we see in general.

Think about climate change. Over the past 10 years, we in the press have provided a platform to climate science denialists to "foster a debate". Apparently, in the media industry, we think that it's that group who are not getting heard.

We saw the same with the New York Times in relation to the recent protests. Here they provided a platform to Tom Cotton, a US senator who wrote an article full of misleading information.

The argument that the New York Times made was this:

The Op-Ed page exists to offer views from across the spectrum, with special focus on those that challenge the positions taken by our editorial board. We see that as a source of strength, allowing us to provide to readers a diversity of perspectives that is all too rare in modern media.

But there are three problems with this.

The first problem is that the NYT actually thought that Tom Cotton wasn't getting heard, why else would they provide him with this platform? Apparently, they believed that without this, people would never hear what he had to say.

Just think about how absolutely insane that mentality is. Let me show you something. Here is a screenshot from Google News of just a few of the news stories from the month leading up to the article in the NYT. This is the level of exposure he was getting before the NYT decided it needed to help him be heard.

You see the problem here?

If the New York Times actually believed in a diverse set of voices, it would elevate those who are not in the news every single day.

But there is an even bigger problem here. The New York Times' argument was that it was "to provide to readers a diversity of perspectives".

The problem with this is that this assumes that all voices are equal, and more so that all opinions are valid.

This is perhaps the biggest mistake of all that we make in the press. We constantly make it appear that anything is a valid opinion.

I'm reminded here of a tweet by Robert Hernandez. After James Bennet (NYT) said that the "Times Opinion owes it to our readers to show them counter-arguments, particularly those made by people in a position to set policy", he wrote:

This, to me, is a core problem in journalism. Racism is not a disagreement. Vaccines are not a disagreement. Climate Change is not a disagreement. Smoking causing cancer is not a disagreement. Publishing these things treats them as valid disagreements.

He is completely right about this. This insane both-side-ism does not do what we in the press think it does. If you have people dying from cancer because of smoking on one side, and tobacco companies saying that smoking is actually healthy on the other, presenting these as equal counter-arguments is a total failure of journalism. And it's the same with racism.

This is not a question of opinions. This is a question of facts!

But this also leads me to the final thing we need to talk about, and that is how we hold people to account.

What does it mean to hold those in power to account?

In today's ultra-connected world, holding those in power to account is the most important role that we have. It's far more important than just bringing people the news or connecting people to different perspectives, because people can get these things from anywhere else. But the act of holding to account is a unique value that we create as journalists.

The problem, however, is that we often completely fail to do this, and it's causing so many problems for us.

To explain why, let me ask you a simple question: What does holding those in power to account mean?

Well, it means that we do two things.

The first thing is that we identify problems, which is necessary in order to know what people have to account for.

And as the press, we do this all the time. For instance, if Facebook does something bad, we in the press have no problem identifying what the problem is and then we hold Mark Zuckerberg to account for it until he does something to fix it.

It's the same when a brand does something bad. As soon as we discover it, as journalists, we start interviewing them and pressuring them about this problem.

So, holding to account means that we identify a problem. This is a critical journalistic skill and focus.

However, over the past years, many people in the press have gotten so scared to appear biased that we have given up defining something as a problem. We see this very clearly around Black Lives Matter, where many newspapers tried (and failed) to just report about it from a neutral perspective.

This is wrong, and let me illustrate why.

What you need to do as a publisher is to look up the data. So, let's look at police brutality as an example, we look up the data, and we find this:

As you can see, some countries in Europe have a higher rate of people killed by the police than others, but none of them even comes close to the level of people killed by the police in the US.

Look at the difference between the UK, Germany and the US. I mean, the problem in the US is off-the-scale. In Germany, 11 people are killed by the police per year. In the US, it's between 1,000 to 1,200 people!

So, people getting killed by the police is a problem in general in the US. Not just for black people, but overall. That is what this data tells us.

The next thing we look at is how this affects black people. In other words, we ask ourselves whether there is a racial part to this problem? And if we look at the past five years, we see that there is a massive difference between white and black people.

And this is just when it comes to shootings, there are many other cases of police violence and oppression.

Another thing we can look at is the share of people having spent time in prison, and the result of that is absolutely shocking.

The New York Times looked into this, and they found that a staggering 17% of black men have been in prison in the US, whereas it was only 3% for white men.

BTW: I tried to look this up for Europe, but I couldn't find a comparable measurement.

This is insane!

So, as a newspaper and as a journalist, we now know that there is a problem. We have real data and real facts, and so everything we now do must be based on this. We must define it as a problem, and we must hold those in power to account for this injustice.

This is not a question of both-side-ism. This is not a question of people having a different opinion about things. This is about facts!

Oh no, I hear a lot of people say in the media, we can't do this.It would make us biased.

But this is not true. Defining our newsroom focus around a fact does not make us biased. It makes us factful!

This is a completely different thing. But more than that, this is why you are a journalist. To bring people the facts, and to hold those in power to account.

Another example is the press' unwillingness to define what happened to George Floyd as 'murder'. I saw many articles where people in the media discussed this. One such article was from the NPR, which said this:

Some of the journalists I spoke to at NPR for this column agreed that "died in police custody" is insufficient, even insulting. Others defended it.
Michel Martin, the weekend host of All Things Considered actually wrote the words "died in police custody" on at least one script.
I chose that language-that Floyd died while in police custody-because it is accurate," Martin wrote me in an email. "We did not at the time have the results of the autopsy requested by Floyd's family-that was made available June 1, which was Monday.

And the reason many gave was this:

Murder is a legal term, and with a suspect charged but not tried in court, that term is of limited use to journalists, Samuel said. If Chauvin is convicted, it will be a simple decision for an NPR journalist to say, "Floyd was murdered." But until then, it is inaccurate to use a legal term when the court has not yet had its say.

This is just such a cowardly position to take. And to illustrate why, I want you to stand up and walk to the middle of your floor. Then lie down, with your face down, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, while you try to hold your breath as much as you can.

And while you are lying there for that long time, ask yourself why the policeman was slowly strangling you while the other officers were just standing around and doing nothing.

If you cannot see this as murder, then you are not holding those in power to account. Saying "We did not at the time have the results of the autopsy" is not journalism.

But this leads us to the second part.

When we hold someone to account, the key element is the 'holding' part.

If all we do is just report things and then move on, we are not holding anyone to account for anything. We are just doing drive-by journalism, which is not that valuable.

And so the real test of our value as the press, as newspapers and as journalists, is not what we have done over the past couple of weeks, but what we will do in the months ahead.

As I write this, the protests are still happening around the world, but that's going to end in a week or two. But this doesn't mean that the problem has gone away.

As Heidi N. Moore tweeted:

A note to media folks: If your newspaper or outlet is no longer covering the *enormous* BLM protests because they're peaceful now, question why the news business fetishizes blood and violence and ignores racial justice movements otherwise.
I already know what (white, male) news editors will be saying this week: "We covered a lot of the protests already, it's time for other news." No. It's an ongoing movement with ever-larger protest and that IS the news.

She is right. It's now our job to hold those in power to this.

The story doesn't end just because the protesters have gone home.

Set this as an editorial metric (I wrote about what this is in another article), and define this as an ongoing focus.

But more than this, think again about these four questions:

Over the past weeks, we have seen both good and bad examples of this. But this is what it means to be a journalist.

 
 
 

The Baekdal Plus Newsletter is the best way to be notified about the latest media reports, but it also comes with extra insights.

Get the newsletter

Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé

 

—   strategy   —

plus

strategy:
How we are using polls the wrong way

plus

strategy:
Defining journalistic objectivity: Being biased towards the facts

free

strategy:
What we in the media need to learn from the #BlackLivesMatter protests

plus

strategy:
So you want to start a new magazine? Good idea!

plus

strategy:
How important is audience engagement for publishers?

plus

strategy:
The big macro changes that define 2020 and beyond (for publishers)