Journalists discussed their coverage of protests at SPJ meeting
Celestia Rene Randolph, Staff Writer
It was a restless atmosphere to begin with, but phones chirping with the tweets of mourners and activists, became the loudest to pierce through the tense atmosphere. Insistent that they receive answers regarding the shooting of Keith Scott.
A local of Gaston, South Carolina and father of seven, protesters and supporters of the “Black Lives Matter” movement kept the city of Charlotte swarming with activity distinctive of a tragedy rather than the typical buzz of city life.
Reporters for The Charlotte Observer, Journalists, and photographers rushed into the center of the action, seeking answers and gathering what information they could from witnesses. The evening of September 22, 2016 became a zoo of hostile activity, demanding acknowledgment on a global scale.
Last Thursday, the local branch of The Society of National Journalists met at a venue downtown to discuss their involvement in the riots. The panel of speakers, accomplished reporters and photographers, recounted their own emotional experiences, the events as they personally witnessed them, and the intercession of the media from both in and outside of Charlotte.
Panel speaker David Sentendrey, digital journalist for FOX 46 television, was the first to recount his feelings on the subject of the protests, and the spiking emotions of African Americans in downtown Charlotte.
At the SPJ event, he recounted his most memorable interview with an individual. Sentendrey approached a very vocal group of young men, singling out a young man from amongst them to attempt a tentative discussion with.
“At first” He said “The guy was agitated and aggressive towards me, the White reporter with a live feed recording device, but after a few minutes, realized my sincerity and began to open up.” The young man expressed his concerns, fears, and the feelings of inferiority he had adopted from a society that convinced him “his skin was ugly”.
The speaker was moved by the youth’s frankness, and viewed the war claiming Charlotte as something more than a destructive feud over injured pride and social prejudices, but instead, understood the conflict to be the reflection of sentiments generations of subtle, as well as direct, insults bred within the community.
While stories similar to Sentendrey’s, occurred in separate rings of the ever expanding circus, unfortunately, it was the haunting images of violence and destruction in the city that earned a world spotlight. While the situation gained awareness rapidly, mostly due to the live streaming professionals covering the story posted to social networks, the two nights of fame brought with them mixed results.
Ryan Pitkin, an editor for Creative Loafing, a news source which reviews the local arts, dining, and public events of several major cities, emphasised the role of social media in the chaos of the riots and protests. By raising awareness through the spread of viral rap videos or “Am I next?” slogans, Twitter and Facebook ensured that no one could miss out on the action, and broadcasted the feelings of protesters to a concerned public, however the more publicity the violence attracted, the more it escalated the intensity of the aggression.
Pitkin distinctly recalled jarring images of rioters resorting to “throwing rocks, and water bottles and 2 x 4 boards” and stripping an officer whose head has been struck by a brick, from “throwing pebbles” and “ripping up grass”.
As reporters from outside of the local sphere flooded in, they attracted extremists and careless youth depending on the attention. At the Thursday night meeting, Bruce Hensly, a major public relations figure, questioned whether or not the media’s continued attention “poked the bear”,and milked the dramatic story for far longer than they should have; he shared his concern for those in his profession, saying that while “it was good for news, it was a nightmare for ‘PR’ representatives, and devastating to Charlotte’s image.”
Speaker Katie Peralta, Journalist for the Observer shared that for those of her profession, it did “make for a good story”, however, she did not believe the extended coverage affected the riots and the increasingly aggressive protests. “Imagery did so much more for a story”, she said, as she told the assembly how the media provided movements a way to express their beliefs.
“It is a representative’s duty to cover a community’s response to systemic racism.” Her memories of the emotional African Americans she had seen gathering together, and the sight of an elderly Black reverend seated on a curb, weeping for his city, motivate the young woman to inform as many Americans she can of the passions of the minorities of the Charlotte area.
By the third night, the situation became controlled, as a curfew was instigated, police units were organized and able to contain the riots, and facts of the Scott case were opened to the public. The noise which had grown far beyond the state of North Carolina died as suddenly as it came.
Reporters and journalists for major networks returned to their big cities and left Charlotte behind, and took the public eye with them. The city is recovering, and though the nation has shifted it’s focus to election controversies, and has already begun to forget the expressions of desperation and fear it observed in Charlotte, NC.
However, the images and moments active SPJ members experienced will remain with them, hopefully to be circulated to their readers and followers on Twitter
Edited by: Sara Gunter