Alleged police attacks on journalists are strikes on democracy

Arizona State University journalism professor Leslie-Jean Thornton tweeted sound advice for up-and-coming reporters Wednesday night.

“J-students: If your feed isn’t erupting with #Ferguson news now, you need to fix it ASAP,” she tweeted.

Wednesday night showed how Twitter is still an important tool in breaking news. Journalists on the ground were live tweeting actions from both police and the protesters – giving a play by play of the unfolding events.

The breaking news, however, was only part of why young journalists – and journalists in general – should pay attention.

Wednesday was a difficult time for reporters in Ferguson, Missouri. Journalists from the Washington Post and the Huffington Post were arrested while on the job. Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron called the arrests unwarranted and “an assault on freedom of the press to cover the news.”

Journalists should also be aware of the Al Jazeera America crew who police allegedly attacked with tear gas. Business Insider has an article reporting on the attack and raw video showing what happened.

These alleged acts by police are not simply assaults on members of the press, but assaults on democracy. The public has a right to know what is happening in Ferguson. Without reporters on the ground to tell those stories, the public will stay in the dark.

One man apparently in the dark Wednesday was Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson. According to the Los Angeles Times, one of its reporters told Jackson two journalists had been arrested.

Jackson’s reaction is telling. The paper quoted him as saying, “Oh God;” he then called the St. Louis County Police Department and asked them to release the journalists.

I don’t know Ferguson well. When I reported in suburban St. Louis for AOL’s Patch.com, my focus was about 10 miles away in Maryland Heights. Yet to see assault on journalism and the First Amendment happening so close to a place on which I reported for two years is incredible.

My thoughts are with the journalists who are covering Ferguson’s unrest. They are doing an incredible service for the public at tremendous danger to themselves.

Rob McLean is a digital managing editor for Hearst Television based out of Omaha, Neb. Previously, he served as a local editor for Patch.com in St. Louis. His work has appeared in C-Ville Weekly, The Reader, HearNebraska.org and Omaha Public Radio. Follow him on twitter at @robertmclean.

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