Singer R. Kelly walked out of an interview with Huffington Post Live Monday when the host asked about allegations that he has had “inappropriate” sexual relations with minors — a controversial aspect to his career that he is known to avoid addressing in interviews. The Grammy award-winning artist was on the show to talk about his… [Read more…]
A year later and Huffington Post still can’t find the money in its budget to pay Ferguson Reporter Mariah Stewart?
By JEAN MARIE BROWN
Mariah Stewart, Huffington Post’s Ferguson reporter, has spent much of the past year chronicling the structural inequities affecting the city and its surrounding communities. But as her one-year crowdfunded appointment draws to a close, there’s still uncertainty about whether Stewart will still have a job come September.
“She’s still our fellow!” wrote Sujata Mitra, senior director of communications for Huffington Post in response to queries about Stewart’s role with the media company. When asked about the future of the Ferguson beat and Stewart’s future with the news organization via email, Mitra didn’t respond.
Stewart said separately there has been talk of an extension, but nothing has been decided.
A year ago this month 374 people contributed $43, 380 to allow Stewart to cover Ferguson for Huffington Post. The beat was expanded to include providing content to the St. Louis American in January.
When initially announced, Huffington Post said that they raised money from contributors to pay Stewart because the money was not included in the company’s budget.
“The crowd funding is really unique,” Stewart said. “It showed how much readers really were tuned into this story.”
But how interested can HuffPost readers be if the future of Stewart’s beat is still undecided?
Stewart works primarily with Huffington Post Washington, D.C,-based reporter Ryan J. Reilly, who Stewart shadowed in the early days of Ferguson protests. She has since been stationed at the St. Louis American, the city’s African American newspaper where she is located in the heart of one of St. Louis’ black communities. At the St. Louis American, she has access to resources that journalists at national mainstream outlets don’t, Stewart said.
In addition to working out of the St. Louis American’s newsroom, she’s also producing copy for the 70,000 circulation weekly newspaper.
“It’s been great,” Stewart said of the decision to move her into the St. Louis American. “There’s a ton more resources and more people to learn from.”
In the days immediately following the shooting death of Michael Brown, Stewart was part of the cadre of citizen journalists who used social media to file reports about the rioting and unrest that was sparked by Brown’s death. That’s what caught editors’ attention at Huffington Post and has helped the news organization uncover issues that it would have missed otherwise, Reilly said.
Stewart said the experience with Huffington Post and the St. Louis American, have helped hone her digital skills and learn how to do tough interviews. “Before I was a little bit hesitant and out of my comfort zone when it came to asking tough questions to people in authoritative positions. Now, I’ve gained a little bit more confidence with that and I’m ready to do it.”
Stewart graduated from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, mere months before Brown’s death, but wasn’t practicing her craft. “I fell out of love with journalism through school. I really didn’t find my niche,” she said. “I was working in retail as a professional bra fitter.”
Working for Huffington Post has helped her find her niche, social justice, and that she now sees journalism as a career, she added.
The visceral reaction to Brown’s death might have caught the nation off guard, but not Stewart, who grew up about 30 minutes away from Ferguson in St. Charles County. “The fact that the town erupted, I honestly wasn’t surprised,” she said noting there were protests after unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin was killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. There was always talk that if something similar happened in St. Louis, the city would be out of control, Stewart said.
Once Ferguson ignited, Stewart said the journalist in her reacted. “I came down to Ferguson without any news organization attached to me,” she said. Stewart posted video and tweeted developments on the ground as they were happening.
She soon learned Beacon was looking for freelancers. After a week, Stewart said she was told the Huffington Post was interested in creating a crowd funded fellowship that covered her salary while the site provided benefits. Some in the media criticized the fellowship at that time and questioned why Huffington Post didn’t hire her outright.
That’s the same question AllDigitocracy asked this month, and so far there still isn’t an answer.
Jean Marie Brown is an instructor in the School of Journalism in the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. She has a master’s degree in journalism from TCU and she earned her bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Prior to teaching at TCU, she worked for Knight-Ridder and later McClatchy newspapers as a reporter, mid-level editor and senior editor.
While they wait to hear whether Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson will be charged in the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, journalists have been busy churning out hundreds, if not thousands of stories, exploring everything from police conduct to the racial divide in the U.S. We’ve also seen a spate of stories about the need to have black journalists on staff to cover stories like Ferguson. In a sense, some positives have come from the sea of negative that surrounds the tragic events that happened in Ferguson, Missouri last month.
Below are five more ways in which we think Ferguson has changed journalism for the better, making news coverage more diverse and comprehensive:
Ferguson has led to increased media attention to matters important to communities of color, issues long ignored by journalism outlets who sought instead to focus on challenges faced by whites and more affluent communities. Those issues include: the disproportionate number of blacks killed at the hands of trigger-happy white people; the disproportionate number of black and brown men in prison; the difference in police activity in communities of color versus predominantly white neighborhoods; as well as the militarization of police. The stories have not only led to Ferguson area police officers who behaved badly to resign, retire or be fired, but also Congress considering legislation requiring police to wear body cameras.
Ferguson has undeniably given a significant boost to citizen journalism. From St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, who used a variety of social media platforms to provide up-to-the-minute coverage of frustration in Ferguson long before mainstream arrived on the scene, to a resident who apparently live-tweeted the shooting as it happened and others who caught police misconduct on camera, Ferguson’s citizen journalists have proved once and for all the value of the immediacy of live-streaming video and unfiltered first-hand accounts of news events. And finally, also thanks to Ferguson, more citizens know it is NOT against the law to record police.
Ferguson, not for the first time, lifted the veil on stereotypes media outlets insist on perpetuating as well as the active role news organizations play in criminalizing black victims of crime. In 2012, it was the media’s use of images of Trayvon Martin wearing a hoodie and even some fake pictures of Martin that lit social media on fire. Black Twitter responded in rapid fire with photos of users wearing their own hoodies in solidarity with Martin. This time, with Brown’s death, Black Twitter again caught national attention with the #iftheygunnedmedown hashtag campaign in which users challenged the way the media distorts images of black people and black identity. Several news organizations, including The New York Times, checked themselves in how they are guilty of perpetuating negative stereotype, which all too often helps to shape negative and inaccurate images of people of color. Here’s to hoping this kind of media self-reflection continues in the future so that the same mistakes aren’t continuously repeated.
At a time when the number of black journalists inside newsrooms have plummeted, Ferguson has led many news organizations to re-examine the importance of having black and brown news persons on staff. Sonali Kohli recently wrote for Quartz about the poignant coverage black journalists provided during the height of Ferguson protests. Kohli singled out reporting by Joel D. Anderson, a black reporter for Buzzfeed: “… throughout the protests, his coverage has been probing not just because he is a good journalist or because he is black, but because of his accumulated experiences, from noticing similarities between protesters and his own family members to understanding the truth of their stories through past prejudice he has faced. Anderson tells Quartz that he feels a sense of familiarity with protesters who might be overlooked by other journalists, which helps in his reporting.” The Huffington Post, in partnership with The Beacon Reader, has also committed to remaining in Ferguson, even as other news organizations have left, in order to continue covering Brown’s shooting. Mariah Stewart, a 23-year-old freelance journalist was hired as a reporting fellow. Through a crowdfunding campaign, the partnership will pay Stewart $40,000 to cover Ferguson for the next year. Here’s hoping that Huffington Post will use its reach, and deep pockets, to extend Stewart’s tenure and to build on its Ferguson coverage beyond a year.
Ferguson put the spotlight on the importance of local news outlets, particularly ethnic media. The St. Louis American, one of the country’s oldest black newspapers, not only continues to report on the events on the ground in the St. Louis suburb, but its managing editor, Chris King, also played an integral role in controlling and preventing some of the reported violence during the protests. As Paige Williams writes for The New Yorker, King texted a high-ranking member of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, helping law enforcement to do its job better. “King’s actions, which may differ from those of more conventional journalists, come out of his history as an activist and an N.R.O.T.C. cadet,” Williams writes. If nothing else, Ferguson teaches just how wrong Williams is, and how disconnected she and perhaps some New Yorker readers may be from the world the rest of us live in. To Williams, King’s actions may appear to be somehow unique, but they aren’t. And no, it doesn’t come from some kind of activism unique to King or his life as an N.R.O.T.C. cadet; it comes from a long-held obligation of black newspapers serving as both an information source and as advocate for the communities they serve. That’s how ethnic media, particularly the black press, has always worked.