Al Tompkins and Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute say they've both covered hate groups and they're offering some advice for journalists. They shared their thoughts in an article that's the subject of this week's Shop Talk.
Panelist Jasmine Crighton said words are critical in covering hate groups. She recommended journalists report on what the groups are doing rather than describing them with a broad label such as “white nationalists.” She said the audience expects reporters to be neutral.
Crighton also said reporters should be prepared to cover more demonstrations and counter-demonstrations -- such as what happened in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend -- as more communities take steps to remove Confederate statues and flags from public property.
Panelist Will Buss said newsrooms should hold meetings to discuss how such stories should be worded. He tells his student reporters to remain neutral and to factually report on what is happening during a demonstration.
Crighton and Buss both said journalists should also make sure they stay safe while covering demonstrations. Buss worked in the St. Louis area during the demonstrations in Ferguson, MO three years ago. He said his newspaper instructed reporters to remain on the periphery if need be rather than getting caught in the middle of a volatile situation that could put their lives in jeopardy.
Panelist Rich Egger said labels are an easy shortcut but can be misleading. He said demonstrators often carry signs; reporting on the messages conveyed on those signs can help explain the purpose behind the demonstration. In the case of Charlottesville, some people carried Confederate flags; reporting that fact quickly gives the audience information about the beliefs of those people.
Jasmine Crighton is News Director of NEWS3 at Western Illinois University and Will Buss is the Director of Student Publications at WIU.