Update: Some of the charges mentioned in this story have since been dropped. Read the latest story here.
If this column serves as anything, hopefully, it’s an observation that far too many people don’t understand how the media works — our goals and our missions and our jobs. That was never more clear than this past week when we covered ongoing protests at Loyola about an obviously righteous topic, Black Lives Matter.
Seven people — six of whom were Loyola students — were arrested Aug. 29 near Loyola’s Lake Shore campus during a protest supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. They were released from police custody early Aug. 30.
The protests have taken place on and around campus since Aug. 21 and protestors have called for Loyola to better support Black students and cut ties with the Chicago Police Department (CPD), among other things.
Authorities told The Phoenix the Aug. 29 protestors — who had locked arms and blocked traffic in the middle of North Sheridan Road near the Mundelein Center for Fine and Performing Arts — were told to disperse several times and refused, leading to arrests. Student protestors at the event also told The Phoenix these cops needlessly threw them around. Our reporters gathered and reported both sides of the story.
As Loyola’s student publication, we’ve had reporters covering nearly every moment of every demonstration over the past week and a half. The Phoenix has been there all nine days, all phases of this movement, to accurately report what’s been happening. As journalists, we have a duty to cover protests, movements and really anything through the good, the bad and the ugly.
And things turned ugly when we posted videos of students being taken into police custody on our Twitter Aug. 29. We were subsequently contacted by dozens of people to strip the videos from our social media, with some people saying it brought participants unnecessary trauma. When we didn’t comply with the requests, members of the movement called for a moratorium on talking to Phoenix reporters about the events.
People spread photos and memes with the words “F— The Loyola Phoenix.”
The Phoenix later published a story detailing the protests and arrests, with the names and charges of those taken into police custody.
Then, we were berated online and on social media for posting the detailed and accurate story of what occurred and for keeping the videos up.
I’d like to take this opportunity to explain a few things about how our publication works and operates in these situations. Please don’t take this as being defensive or defiant, but as valuable information about the media going forward in the current political climate.
I want to share with you, our readers, some of our protocol when reporting any story — and in this situation, protests — regardless of the movement.
Also, know that The Phoenix is editorially independent of the university and doesn’t directly support anyone or anything except the pursuit of the full truth. We aren’t on the students’ side. We aren’t on the university’s side. Our sole job is to side with complete and full accuracy. Our job isn’t to be a promoter, it’s to cover things as they are.
The statement made some accusations that are just not true. We weren’t asked to not record videos and had we been we would’ve declined anyway. To my knowledge, requests weren’t made until after the videos were already on Twitter.
Our reporters posted videos of the arrests on social media because they occurred in a public space — North Sheridan Road. We don’t need consent for videos or photos taken of people in public. We didn’t take them down because that’s not what media outlets typically do. If something is blatantly wrong or inaccurate, we publish a correction. But nothing was inaccurate here.
As for the publication of the detailed story and the names of those charged, note that these names were listed publicly — a day before The Phoenix released any names — on @ourstreetsluc, the movement’s public Instagram page, shortly after the arrests were made. The list has since been taken down. The names and charges accessed by The Phoenix through CPD are public record and can be accessed and seen by the public and reporters.
Another thing the statement mentions is that reporters “continued to follow some of the organizers to the precinct where our friends were held.” This is inaccurate – organizers at the protest announced which police districts the arrestees were at and reporters, as they should, went to gather any extra information needed to report the whole story.
The last thing I’d like to cover is the claim that The Phoenix “has been continuously harassing the 7 people who were arrested.” For any story, we give all parties involved a fair chance to give their perspective. It was important to us to make sure everyone arrested had a fair chance to speak up about what happened, so naturally we sent follow-up interview requests to all.
And we won’t stop doing this now for this movement or any other coverage. We are ethically bound to make sure people are notified and have a chance to speak toward their direct involvement in any story.
These policies are not just ours. They’re used by a number of other journalists and well-thought-of media outlets we deeply respect.
We want to hear from you. If you’d like to write a letter to the editor, we welcome it. Write something and send it to us and it may get published. You have a voice in this.
Know that our hearts are in the right place. We’re trying to do our jobs the best we can — fairly and accurately, as always — and people have released a social media shitstorm on us for doing that job. That’s unfortunate, but we’re going to keep doing the best we can to cover what needs to be covered. With a country in this state, the worst thing to do is kill the messenger.