Representative coverage is a lesson straight from Journalism 101. Yet, budding journalists and large media organizations alike are failing at it. For an example look no further than coverage of Ferguson, Missouri.
In "Ferguson's Never-Ending Nightmare," journalist Sarah Kendzior offers a critique of media organizations that descended on Ferguson following protests on the one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown.
"The national media swarm the streets, some arriving only after the shooting and looting on Sunday signaled a ratings bonanza in wait," Kendzior wrote.
The St. Louis-based reporter has seen first-hand the arrival and departure of national media to Ferguson in the past year. She criticized the ways the protests were represented, noting that aspects were sensationalized.
It is not necessarily a novel critique. However, Kendzior reminds readers of the human aspect of Ferguson. When the cameras are turned off, and the media crews leave, those involved in the story must carry on.
"This is what is missing from the parachute coverage—the story never ended for residents, the pain never stopped. ... the fear and frustration is constant," Kendzior wrote.
She mentions local residents who suffer PTSD from the heightened sense of insecurity felt by in Ferguson community. These types of stories are rarely told.
This is a stark reminder that every story has a human element. What causes journalists to lose this element can be debated, but the effects of the failure are staggering: Humanity is left behind when people become symbols.
The podcast "On the Media" interviewed Kendzior about her article. She detailed what happens when stories gloss over the human element.
"It's a terrible thing to be looked at and grieved for only as a symbol, instead of as a person. I'm not convinced that people really care what happens to people in St. Louis or there would be sustained media attention on these issues."
In terms of economics, a large news organization cannot stay on one story forever. Yet, Kendzior's critique is a reminder that journalists are not merely tourists to a story. They must remember that there are no faceless stories and honor the lives of the strangers who let them into their lives.
What do you think? Is Kendzior's critique on point? How can journalists avoid the trap of being tourists? Let me know what you think with a comment below or contact me on Twitter or LinkedIn.
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