Cops and The Media: A Chilly Peace

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Police-media relations may have bottomed out following a series a controversial police-involved deaths beginning last August, when Michael Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. Journalists covering the resulting unrest were harassed, bullied and arrested by police.

“Unfortunately, what I saw in Ferguson was a total disregard for the First Amendment rights of journalists,” says Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA).

Osterreicher, a Buffalo attorney and former photojournalist, was dispatched to Ferguson by the board of his 7,000-member organization after what he calls the “catch-and-release” arrests of journalists there. Some 50 media organizations joined the NPPA in decrying police obstruction of the media. The ACLU won a court order ensuring the media’s right “to record public events without abridgment” as long as it didn’t threaten public safety or interfere with police.

The agreement helped resolve one crisis, but the broader picture of police-press relations did not improve much.

The news business is now struggling with some tough questions:

  1. How do we differentiate our content when citizen-journalists record the same events, then scoop us by posting it first on social media?
  2. Is it still possible these days for the traditional media to “own” a story?
  3. Do press credentials mean anything?

In a special report prepared for the 10th annual Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America, TCR Contributing Editor David J. Krajicek examines the state of play in media-press relations across the country.

Among his findings: the once grudging respect and mutual need that characterized the daily give and take between the media and local law enforcement has been seriously eroded.

The complete report, as well as a companion piece that surveys media policies adopted by selected law enforcement agencies, is available HERE.

David J. Krajicek (@djkrajicek) is a contributing editor of The Crime Report and co-editor of Crime & Justice News. A veteran police reporter, he writes The Justice Story for the New York Daily News, and was a 2014 fellow with the Fund for Investigative Journalism. He welcomes readers’ comments.TCR thanks the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation for its support of the study.

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