Last Thursday, the Syracuse SPJ was proud to host a Skype conversation with Durrie Bouscaren, a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio on public health and the medical industry, and also a SU alum. She reported on the Ferguson protests and discussed a wide range of topics, from how the media as a whole covered it, diversity in the newsroom, and how her work at Newhouse helped her. She was also extremely friendly and a great joy to talk to, so we thank her for her time!
Below are all the major topics we covered during the discussion.
The Media and the Community
The first point in our discussion looked at the media’s relationship with the Ferguson community. I actually asked if rumors like a reporter asking to take a selfie with Anderson Cooper amidst the protests was real, and while Durrie couldn’t confirm that specific incident, she said similar ones were very common. She pointed us to this blog post, which has many examples such as:
- Reporters mingling and laughing where Michael Brown was shot while local residents were mourning.
- Focusing more on images of tear gas and rubber bullets instead of the story’s deeper context.
- One reporter who said he came to Ferguson as a “networking opportunity,” and was actually the one who asked for the photo with Anderson Cooper.
Durrie said it’s important for journalists, when covering these types of events, to be more conscious of how you treat the people living there. This means connecting more to the community, showing more empathy, and not going in with preconceived notions that limit your perspective.
“You have to be able to empathize with everyone, even with people who might do something wrong, even with people who may be misinformed.”
This also means having a more open dialogue with the community while reporting. Durrie said her coverage including sending emails and tweets for input and following up with citizens often.
Interviewing the Police
Someone pointed out that the nature of the incident, with a police officer shooting a resident, likely made it difficult to talk and interview the police. Durrie agreed and said it was important to be prepared to fact-check police statements, as well as asking for lots of clarification. This is because many officers often use “PR-speak” that don’t give enough information.
One example she gave was a police saying protestors were “forcibly removed” from an area. She followed up by asking if this was by using tear gas or rubber bullets. She said if the officer says no, but you have strong evidence that rubber bullets were at the scene, you should be willing to call out the lie.
“You can’t let them get away with things. You have to come with notes, you have to come with evidence, and if they blatantly lie you call them out and fact-check them then or afterwards.”
Durrie said officials that are elected or in similar positions of authority should be aware they’re going to be fact-checked. Durrie later asked the same police officer if she was being fair to him, and he agreed that he was. So don’t be afraid to do the same.
Getting the Full Picture
Another question was about how much the violent protests were highlighted over the more peaceful ones or the humanitarian efforts. Durrie said that she did see a wider variety of events that weren’t often shown. These included:
- Night-time barbecues
- Drum circles
- Breakdancing kids
- Her personal favorite, several kids in a pick-up truck drumming and dancing
She did point out, however, that nighttime is when people get more agitated, teens and college kids often come outside, and the news crews come out as well. Since the first info viewers often see on primetime evening news is what’s happening at night, so it’s much more an issue of timing than anything else.
Importance of Diversity
Later on we discussed what role race and diversity played, and Durrie said while it wasn’t the most important element, it was still a major factor and greatly affected their reporting.
“Ferguson shows how important it is for newsrooms to be diverse. It is not just important, it is crucial.”
She gave an example of co-reporting with a black reporter on a piece about the racial divide in Ferguson. When they interviewed a white citizen, they would talk to Durrie regardless of who asked the question. With a black citizen, they always spoke to her colleague. She said this was just one way that race affected how comfortable and open people were about sharing their experiences. While it’s doesn’t mean no white reporters should cover Ferguson, Durrie said it means newsrooms need greater diversity to deliver better coverage.
Durrie recommended young journalists take the time now to get more involved with diverse groups while reporting in school. This included not going to an “old, white man expert” to give context to a story focusing on people of more diverse backgrounds. Having just one person to represent people of different races, sexualities, disabilities, and anything else also isn’t enough. It’s important to realize how much our own backgrounds affect how we see the world, and there’s many different lenses other than our own.
Her work at the Stand
Ashley Kang, director of The Stand, a monthly newspaper covering the Syracuse South Side, was also present. She worked with Durrie at the paper while she was a Newhouse student, and asked how her work there prepared her for covering Ferguson.
Durrie said she first got interested in The Stand when she felt the south side wasn’t telling many of its great stories, and wanted to help share them so people could see what the area was really like. During her work she saw many of the reasons for poverty, and how much of it is institutional and not because of individuals. She also saw how much sharing information makes a difference in shaping a community, all of which helped prepare her for covering the Ferguson protests.
“You get to know these neighborhoods for more than what you see on TV.”
They also shared a few laughs as they reminisced about Durrie’s work at the stand, and Durrie joked about Facebook-stalking Ashley’s recent baby pictures. She also greatly recommended working with The Stand for students to expand their experience.
It was a great pleasure having Durrie speak with the Syracuse SPJ, and we hope to stay in touch with her in the future. Thanks to everyone who attended!