POLITICS

Help Support Reporting In Ferguson For The Next Year

With your aid, we've uncovered legal cruelty, exposed official indifference and heard new voices. But there's more to do.

 

UPDATE: To help reach the goal in the final stretch, HuffPost will be matching contributions.

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For the past year, thanks to readers across the country, we were able to stay in Ferguson, Missouri, even as the cable vans packed up and reporters headed off to the next national event.

With readers' help, The Huffington Post plans to stay for another year. Partnered with The St. Louis American, we've set up another campaign, and we hope you'll decide to back it once again.

Go here to support the Ferguson project -- and share it with others.

One year, of course, was not enough to see the work of Ferguson through. Just last month, we learned from Mariah Stewart, the reporter whose year-long work was crowdfunded by readers, that St. Louis County authorities were charging protesters swept up by police in the 2014 unrest -- including many of those seen in iconic images -- just under the statute of limitation. Very few of them had done anything other than peacefully protest.

In that moment, we realized that we couldn't leave Ferguson yet.

To back this project, and to let St. Louis County leaders know that they're still being watched, visit the Beacon Reader, where you can make either a one-time or a monthly recurring contribution.

If we do this project for a second year, we won't be doing it alone. Partway through Stewart's first year, HuffPost struck up a partnership with The St. Louis American, an iconic African-American weekly newspaper published continuously since 1928. Stewart gained a physical newsroom, an all-important desk and colleagues in close proximity, while her work was cross-published on the American's site and in print.

Over the past year, Stewart, working under the mentorship of HuffPost's Ryan Reilly as well as the editors at the American, has conducted long-form investigations, relentlessly tracked local council meetings and other gatherings where officials hash out policy, built a source network of residents and protesters, uncovered government wrongdoing and brought casual, everyday racism to light -- such as the man in a pickup truck who told a black woman, "I'm white, call them twice, bitch," when she threatened to call the police to report his drunken harassment.

HuffPost's investigation into the broken municipal court system in St. Louis County -- "Fleece Force," which included a mini-documentary -- helped expose systemic wrongdoing. That investigation received widespread attention, winning praise from Missouri lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, as well as civil rights leaders and law enforcement officers who saw the need for reform. None of that reporting would have been possible without Stewart, who criss-crossed St. Louis County over the course of several months, spending numerous evenings inside municipal courtrooms large and small. Some officials were obviously not used to any outside scrutiny: She was at times prevented from entering by officers who falsely believed that their courts weren't open to the public.

 

Stewart has brought us the background stories of some of the most prominent voices of the Black Lives Matter movement. She interviewed Ferguson's mayor and got him to admit he believes the Department of Justice's report on law enforcement in his city put too much focus on race. And she revealed exclusively how Ferguson's prosecutor was -- despite DOJ's damning report that led to the departure of many of her colleagues -- still crusading against protesters arrested in Ferguson nearly a year later.

On Christmas Eve, she raced to a gas station parking lot where Berkeley, Missouri, police had just shot a young black man, Antonio Martin, to death. By 2 a.m. on Christmas, as the only national reporter on the scene, she was able to publish eyewitness reports. She followed those with an interview of Martin's girlfriend, whom police had blocked from comforting him as he lay dying on the pavement -- an act reminiscent of the indifference shown to Michael Brown last August.  

Stories like those were intensely important and found a huge audience online, with tens of thousands of people sharing them, amplifying the message and helping drive change in Ferguson. But these kinds of stories were the exception. The reality of on-the-ground local reporting is that it is a long, hard slog. Weeks can go by without a story that resonates with a national audience, which is why national publications hire reporters to cover national events, rather than local meetings, movements and politicians. Most public meetings don't yield the kind of news that resonates across the country. Public records requests are hindered at every step, and when information is finally provided, it's often redacted to the point of uselessness. 

That, in short, is why national publications don't have reporters staking out every meeting of the Ferguson police or town council. It's also why HuffPost doesn't have someone based in West Baltimore, Staten Island, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Dallas or countless other towns and counties. And it's why local leaders can get away with as much as they do.

We took a lot of heat last year when we first launched this campaign, with other journalists asking why our corporate parent didn't just go ahead and hire a reporter in Ferguson out of its own piggy bank. Yet none of the publications that were critical of us found a way to fund reporting in Ferguson on a daily basis themselves -- reporting that is essential to the public, but rarely profitable. (Not that that will stop them from criticizing us again this year. So be it.)

With readers' help, though, the economics can change. If you agree it's important for the national media to stay in Ferguson, Missouri, whether it's commercially profitable or not, help make it happen by contributing here

Stewart's reporting has taken her outside Ferguson, too. She profiled nearby Normandy, "one of the many Fergusons you've never heard of." As the national press focused in on the election in the now-famous town, Stewart drew attention to elections happening in other St. Louis County municipalities with similar problems, including a tiny town that received 34.9 percent of its revenue from fines and fees and that re-elected its mayor with just a few dozen votes.

We hope that readers respond with as much energy as they did a year ago, but if they don't, you can be assured Stewart, who is a major talent, will have a place on our national reporting team. This campaign is not about making sure that she has a job in journalism -- that will happen either way. What this is about is the town of Ferguson, Missouri, and whether we -- and, more importantly, you -- can continue to have a reporter covering it on the ground. 

Here's how you can make that happen.

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