As Some Ferguson Protesters Turn On The Media, Others Cover Demonstrations Themselves

FERGUSON, Mo. -- As demonstrations have dragged on in this suburb of St. Louis since a police officer killed Michael Brown in August, some protesters have begun focusing their anger not only at the police but also at members of the media they believe have misrepresented both the 18-year-old and their movement.

Tension over how the media has covered Ferguson isn't new. Supporters of officer Darren Wilson protested outside a local news station in August after the station aired footage outside Wilson's home, and looters and some aggressive demonstrators threatened reporters during the height of the protests that same month. One poll in September even indicated that one of the only things many black and white residents of St. Louis County could agree on was that media coverage had only made the Ferguson situation worse.

But in recent weeks, as outlets have published leaked information from the grand jury that is deciding whether to charge Wilson in connection with Brown's death, many protesters have turned their ire toward reporters both online and at the scene of demonstrations in Ferguson. In addition to being upset about the leaked information and what they say is an unfair portrayal of Brown, many demonstrators disapprove of how their actions have been portrayed in the news.

On one night, some protesters agreed not to talk to any members of the media because the protesters didn't think reporters should cover the arrest of a state senator. On another night, protesters yelled and chanted at camera crews from both CNN and a local television station until the crews moved away from demonstrations outside the Ferguson Police Department.

Given the large role social media played in focusing national attention on Ferguson, it's unsurprising that Twitter has become a top source for observers and supporters of protesters.

Several prominent demonstrators have gained a significant social media following through their coverage of the protests, even tweeting while in police custody and offering first-person perspectives from within the demonstrations. Several livestreamers often broadcast from the site of demonstrations. Two Ferguson protesters -- 29-year-old Deray McKesson of Minneapolis and 25-year-old Johnetta Elzie of St. Louis -- are publishing their own newsletter on the Ferguson movement.

"We have to be our own news," Elzie told The Huffington Post. "There's no St. Louis Post-Dispatch protester edition."

Elsie said she and other protesters have decided only to speak to certain news outlets and reporters who they believe have portrayed the demonstrations fairly. She said one CNN producer tried to arrange a sit-down interview with her and McKesson and other protesters so that protesters would continue to allow CNN to broadcast from outside the Ferguson Police Department. That didn't happen, because other protesters said they wanted to see CNN's coverage treat protesters more favorably. Elzie also said protesters told one St. Louis Post-Dispatch who tried to embed with a crowd of protesters that she wasn't welcome to walk with the group.

Elzie said protesters also are frustrated that media outlets automatically trust information, even anonymous information, when it comes from the police. It has become accepted as fact, she said, that several unknown black witnesses reportedly back up Wilson's account of the shooting, but protesters have a much higher burden of proof to demonstrate that they're telling the truth about what happens at protests.

"When something happens we have to have words, videos, photos, audio, satellite footage, like we've got to have everything in order to prove what happened, happened," Elzie said. "We have to have every form of media in order for something to be taken seriously."

Supporters of Brown also indicated they were much more willing to believe the firsthand accounts of protesters on the ground instead of media coverage. Some of those interviewed by The Huffington Post at protests outside the Ferguson Police Department over the weekend said they turned to St. Louis Alderman Antonio French to keep them informed on what was happening.

“He was the guy reporting the news. He was our journalist," said 32-year-old Sarah Thomas, a children’s therapist from St. Louis. "Then more and more jumped on Twitter and we followed them as well. If you’re not following @MusicOverPeople, what the heck is wrong with you? Twitter is our TV. If it weren’t for protesters we would never know what’s happening.”

Other Brown supporters said the coverage of Ferguson encouraged them to go see what was happening for themselves.

“I went to find out firsthand, and sure enough, the first night I was out, I came home and the media reported it as if it was nothing but a bunch of violent hooligans," said Darlene Hawkerself, a 43-year-old teacher from St. Louis.

"They totally took advantage of stereotypes about race and making any black person that shared emotion seem violent,” Hawkerself said. "They painted all these protests to be violent mobs of people terrorizing, and that’s absolutely not the experience I had. I’ve been around thousands of protesters, who’ve protested thousands of hours, and yeah I’ve seen a water bottle get thrown. It’s unreal how it’s magnified and made horrible."

Demonstrators have also encouraged those interested in Ferguson to watch livestreams of the protests rather than rely on media accounts. John Ziegler, a 35-year-old from northern Illinois, says he can provide his viewers with a different perspective.

“I see myself as an embedded journalist,” Ziegler said. "I’m able to tell a side of the story that the mainstream media can’t because I’ve gained trust and respect of the people in the movement."

Mariah Stewart reported from Ferguson, Ryan J. Reilly reported from Washington.

"Justice for Michael Brown" rally


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