Getting an individual to tell his or her story is already a tough task for journalists.
Add the element of an individual being a different race than the reporter, and an entirely new level of trust is needed.
David Kurpius, the dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, said in a lecture to journalism students at Lakeville North High School in Lakeville, Minnesota that a lack of trust is what led to tension between protestors and journalists at the University of Missouri in November when students, faculty and others attempted to keep the media out of a public space on campus.
“If you don’t trust people who are covering you, you’re going to push them out,” Kurpius said.
In response to ongoing racial tension at the University of Missouri, the student group “Concerned Student 1950” used peaceful protests requesting University of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe resign after perceived failure to address racial issues at MU. Wolfe eventually resigned on Nov. 9, 2015, but the day became even more eventful once Wolfe resigned.
In efforts to keep journalists—both local and national—away from a safe space set up on campus where students could seek sanctuary, students and faculty members created a circle around the safe space because many felt journalists were being invasive and insensitive toward the privacy of those in the safe space.
This prevented some journalists from telling the story they wanted to tell, creating controversy throughout the country.
One MU student who drew anger from the circle of people protecting the safe space was photographer Tim Tai. Freelancing for ESPN, Tai refused to back away because of his right to cover an event on public property, citing the First Amendment. He stated multiple times on his Twitter account, @nonorganical, he didn’t want to make a scene, though. Tai said he was just trying to do his job.
Kurpius said Tai had every right to be there, and those same rights stated in the First Amendment allowed the students part of “Concerned Student of 1950” to protest.
Kurpius and the Missouri School of Journalism backed Tai and were “proud” of him, but Kurpius admitted there was also “significant gray area” regarding ethics.
Although many protestors didn’t trust the media, Kurpius said some student journalists were able to tell a better story than the national and international media because of the level of trust between some of the protestors in the safe zone and the student journalists. Many student journalists texted protestors they knew, and then interviewed them outside of the safe space.
Kurpius believes protestors wouldn’t have opened up as much if not for the level of trust between both sides.
“It’s the ethics of trust,” Kurpius said.
Kurpius used this event as a teaching tool for students at Lakeville North High School, asking them how they would understand concerns being brought up by an individual of a different race.
Lakeville North students said methods such as interviews and observations could help journalists better understand situations foreign to them.
Using this event as a teaching tool is important to Kurpius for any journalist because the tensions at the University of Missouri aren’t limited to only his university.
“It’s not a Missouri issue, and it’s not a Minneapolis issue,” he said. “It is a national issue.”
Something also not limited to Missouri or Minneapolis is the change in journalism.
Early on in the lecture, Kurpius asked students if they thought journalism was dying. A handful of students raised their hands in affirmation. Kurpius didn’t answer this question until later on, letting it sit in the minds of the students for most of the lecture.
He also touched on the main news outlets where teens and young adults get their news. Kurpius created a list on the whiteboard, and once the list was compiled, he noted many of the outlets are the same major news outlets that were popular years ago.
Kurpius pointed to the ability of these organizations to adapt as to why they are still prominent, ultimately answering the question he posed to the group earlier on.
“Journalism is not dying,” Kurpius said. “I think the golden age of journalism is just ahead.”