Last week, at this time, SPJ and all of journalism was laser-focused on COVID-19 and the loss of 100,000 lives.
Then a man named George Floyd died in Minneapolis, and SPJ once again pivoted with the world of journalism.
In the past week, we’ve devoted considerable energy on two fronts: pointing journalists to resources to help their coverage of Floyd-related events and defending – loudly and frequently – their right to cover the story without harassment and harm.
If you’ve been on Twitter – and who hasn’t? – you know that journalists around the country have been attacked or threatened by police and protesters as they’ve covered the unleashing of national pain over yet-another police-involved shooting of a black man.
From coast to coast, journalists reported being doused with tear gas, pepper spray or paint balls; returning to news vehicles marked with graffiti; facing arrest or the threat of it.
In all, journalists have reported 233 “press freedom incidents” while covering Floyd news, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
The site, created by the Committee to Protect Journalists and supported by SPJ and multiple other partner groups – has been updating the list daily on Twitter. Today’s update showed:
- 41 arrests/detainments.
- 153 assaults — 125 by police, 27 by others.
- 39 equipment/newsroom damage.
- 53 physical assaults, 33 by police.
- 35 tear gassings.
- 21 pepper sprayings.
- 55 rubber bullet/projectiles.
These attacks are unjustified. Journalists are doing their jobs, for their communities, as allowed by the First Amendment. They are literally putting their lives on the line — in the midst of a pandemic, from understaffed newsrooms, in the face of daily denigration from a press-hating president.
If you are among the journalists harmed in any way as you’ve covered this most critical story, please know that we at SPJ stand with you and for you:
- Last Friday, we asked the Minnesota State Patrol to explain why it arrested the CNN journalists.
- On Saturday, we released an open letter to police officers and protesters. We offered our empathy for their roles – but implored them to treat journalists with the same respect and dignity they expect.
- We then joined more than 100 other pro-press groups in a letter from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, decrying attacks on journalists and calling for Minnesota authorities to clean up their act.
- We were also among 29 signers of a National Press Club letter to law enforcement nationwide, asking them “to halt the deliberate and devastating targeting of journalists in the field.”
- We’ve also put a tremendous number of helpful resources in front of members and non-members alike, through our Journalist Toolbox site. Toolbox founder/editor and SPJ Board Member Mike Reilley has been updating the “covering protests” page frequently – with info about how to estimate crowd sizes, what to do if your phone is seized, whether you are free to take photos and videos in public places and much, much more.
- Speaking of your right to work in public spaces, Ethics Committee Chair Lynn Walsh has been fielding calls on that. Her take: “The answer is not to stop recording, reporting or taking photos.”
We’ll continue the conversation on Friday, from noon to 1 p.m., when we host an online panel titled “Stories from the Frontlines: Journalists and Protests with Brian Stelter.” Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” will talk with journalists covering the Floyd protests to explore why members of the press have faced such unprecedented harassment, intimidation and detainment; and how they can protect themselves and maintain access going forward.
Joining him will be Errin Haines, editor-at-large of 19thnews.org; and Jesse J. Holland, author/scholar and former Associated Press journalist; Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio reporter; Mike Trautmann, news director and director of investigations, Louisville Courier-Journal; Dorothy Tucker, investigative reporter at CBS-Chicago and president of the National Association of Black Journalists; and Haisten Willis, freelance journalist, Washington Post and other outlets.
We appreciate all of them taking time from their work to join us. We invite you to join the event by registering for the Zoom session.
Finally, we appreciate all of you – whether covering #GeorgeFloyd news, returning to COVID-19 stories, or tracking everyday stories of the newsmakers and news events in your communities.
Stay safe out there.
Defending the First Amendment and promoting open government are more crucial now than ever. Join SPJ’s fight for the publics right to know either as an SPJ Supporter or a professional, student or retired journalist.