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Social Media Led the Way, Now Mainstream News Must Keep the Spotlight on Ferguson

In Blog on August 18, 2014 at 9:00 am

Guest post by my daughter, Valerie Wexler

Hands up. Don’t shoot. We all know that powerful refrain now. A community echoing what were possibly Michael Brown’s last words before being shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

We know the chant now, but yet again it took the mainstream media a while to understand the full implications of a story that social media was on top of for days.

On August 9th and 10th I watched as news of yet another shooting of an unarmed black kid played out on Twitter. I posted this powerful piece by Roxane Gay, but even as I did I knew many people were still not paying attention. To those in the media or constantly on Twitter it seems like the world has become oversaturated with news, but many people outside that bubble still depend on mainstream media.

It was the arrests of the Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan J. Reilly on August 13th that finally propelled Ferguson into the spotlight. However even then the mainstream media was behind. Information from Ferguson came almost entirely in the form of tweets. During the night of the arrests, it appeared that the only news crews broadcasting from the area were a local station and one livestream (Al Jazeera America attempted to continue coverage but reporters were teargassed). In fact it’s quite likely that Lowery and Reilly would have stayed in jail overnight if their colleagues and followers hadn’t immediately noticed that they had stopped tweeting.

Though it appears to have been covered briefly, cable news did not stay with the story that night even as events continued to worsen, and many of those of us watching on social media seemed to be wondering the same thing, is anyone else seeing this?

The answer was too often, No, or only after the fact. The journalists who have been on the ground have done great work in conditions that at times closely resemble a war zone. Wesley Lowery’s account of his arrest was harrowing and he has clearly tried to continue reporting and not let himself become too much of the story. But too often the mainstream media- reporting the next day, after the police officers dressed in military gear with rifles pointed at a peaceful crowd had mostly dispersed- got it wrong.

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