Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Making the news...

Have you ever just been somewhere when a you just thought to yourself that you really shouldn't be there? I had that feeling today.

Today I attended a protest/auction or auction/protest depending on your particular view. The auction was of a local farmer's land and the protest was because several people believe that he wasn't treated fairly and that his land was basically taken from him.

I haven't looked into this story too much, but I have looked so far as to find out that this gentleman paid is property taxes to the county only occasionally from about '99-'04. The facts, as they seem to be at this time, are that he owes the banks, the government and whoever about $750,000. And he has apparently not made a loan payment or anything for this farm since about 1994 so he's been given about 11 years to work something out, but he claims that he's paid his debt so who really knows.

The local farmer who lost his farm is black and the protest was organized by an organization in Virginia that tries to help black farmers to keep their land through protests and by helping them do any research they might need to help defend themselves legally.

This particular protest was hot. Media everywhere, police everywhere, it was a spectacle to say the least. The farm was quite large and several bidders showed up. It was a pretty solid auction I would say, but I wasn't really paying too much attention. I know that one tract of land sold for over $300,000.

The protesters blew whistles and attempted to make noise so that the hearing the auction and bidding was difficult. They also chanted and held signs. Nothing crazy, just a peaceful protest surrounded by 3 TV news crews, 2 newspaper crews and unless the hat was just for show, a crew from HBO. Not bad for Podunk, KY.

Everything went smoothly and neither the state police nor U.S. Marshalls had to intervene in anyway and most all of the protesters were personable, they knew what they were doing and they knew what they could and couldn't do.

After the auction was finished however, things changed a bit.

The protesters huddled up for a short prayer and those of us with the media just hung out for minute because we needed names and quotes. After the prayer a crew from our local ABC affiliate showed up fashionably late, but somehow jumped ahead of everyone for the first interview.

I was in the small group that had formed around the reporter and her camera man, but I was just waiting for her to finish so I could get the head man's name.

I wasn't paying too much attention to them since all I needed was a name, but before I knew it the reporter was in a shouting match with not only the guy she was interviewing, but 2 or 3 others and more were gathering around us. As soon as that started I figured it wouldn't be too long before the police walked over to make sure that everything stayed civil.

It was at that point that I realized that all of the police left after all of the folks there for the auction had left. Then I look back at the reporter and she was shouting with this crazed look on her face and she was not backing down. In fact, she was throwing gasoline on the fire.

It was that point that I thought to myself, "I really don't think I want be here anymore" followed by "If these dozen or so black men decide they are going to wring this girl's neck, will her camera guy take the beating that I will trying to help her not get killed or will he just take a step back and document her death and my near death for posterity?"

For about 60 seconds or so I was really worried about the situation. It was one of only a couple of situations where I really wanted to be out of there in a hurry and one of about four situations where I feared for my safety.

Luckily cooler heads prevailed and everything ended peacefully. Which is good because I just wanted to get back to work since I was two hours behind on my sports pages.

So now I have to wonder, was what she was doing reporting the news? She almost made the news, but she was definitely influencing the news. That protest was completely and totally peaceful and some of the protesters were even joking around with the police. But what she got on tape was a group of angry black men yelling at a 20-something reporter because she baited them into a shouting match.

I saw the report and they didn't run any of her flare up with the protesters but after she spoke with them she went to the man who just lost his farm and then proceded to anger him to the point that he stormed off and they had to chase after him. They did show a couple of seconds of him on camera shouting after the reporter angered him.

Is this accurately reporting the news? Is this something that she is encouraged to do by her boss or does she think this is the proper way to handle certain stories? Where do you stop before you are introducing too much influence?

I don't really know, but she can take liberties that my editor and I can't afford to take. Sure it would make for good TV, but she works out of a big city and could really care less about what happens in our small town, she may never come back. My editor and I would see some serious backlash if we did something like that. Knowing nearly everyone in town keeps you honest.

Personally, I think that she should have at least treated the farmer with a little more respect. Regardless of whether or not the man lost his farm justly or unjustly, he still lost his farm and then he got to watch as other farmers picked it apart on the auction block. Chances are she was going to get some quality footage regardless of how she approached him.

One thing is for sure, she had better stop to think about who her friends will be if the situation goes bad because of her tactics.


Vman said...

i don't know how a payment on a 700,000 debt goes missing. I hate it when people play the race card in these types of issues.BY the way i'm an aspiring journalist too

Travis said...

I think there's no justification to be found for what she did. But, I don't doubt that she did it on purpose. She came in with an agenda and prboably got a nice pat on the back when she got to the station.
Gee, it's almost like journalism has gone bad.

BRATCH said...

She did come in with an agenda, but she didn't get a pat on the back from her boss because they couldn't use any of it.

It didn't take but about 10 seconds and her story wasn't even being talked about as they traded insults. It got personal really quick.

They called her racist and she insisted that she wasn't, at the top of her lungs, by saying she wasn't racist because all of her friends were black.

You can imagine how well that over with her audience.

The point of it is that what they could have shown on the news in no way would have accurately represented how the situation played out. They could have given their viewers a very skewed view of what really went down because it wasn't like that at all.