Embedded reporters at RNC


I learned today — perhaps the same way you did — that MPR had an embedded reporter within the police ranks during the last part of the Republican National Convention: I read it on Tim Nelson’s RNC convention blog. He described Thursday’s confrontations:

I was variously ordered to get down and to leave immediately. I was inadvertently struck by pepper spray and by “stinger balls” from an explosive thrown at my feet. But per our agreement, I was never forced to leave the scene.

I don’t know the exact count of journalists detained. I heard numbers last night as high as 18. I did see some people with credentials issued by the Republican National Convention among the handcuffed detainees. But I also saw people with handmade “media” insignia and several students claiming to be with a college paper in Iowa.

Tim was riding along Thursday with one of the mobile police units. He was one of 8 reporters in the Twin Cities media to be so accomodated at times during the week. He could share the information he acquired after the convention ended. (Update, Sat. 9:23 a.m.: The Star Tribune’s perspective was printed this morning)

For the record, his deal was unknown to all but a very few news officials in his company.But now that he has written about the arrangement, it’s fair game.

These sorts of agreements pose difficult questions for news organizations. We invite you to discuss it in the comments section below in the interest of being transparent about them:

** Should journalists “embed” (or even “ride along” ) with anybody? Clearly we’ve seen it most recently in the Iraq War. Access was granted to journalists to get the military’s side of the story, and to get a good look at things. By virtue of the position they took up during the RNC protests (almost by default) journalists essentially embedded with the protesters. So what’s wrong with taking up a position on the other side of the police lines? Nothing, unless you’re giving up any editorial control over what you see because you cut a deal.

** What’s the payoff? Can you use what you learn in a timely manner, preferably while it’s still news? Part of the arrangement allowed Nelson — as gifted a reporter as I’ve ever had the pleasure of being associated with — to watch the events on Thursday night with enhanced odds of escaping the fate that other journalists — mainstream local journalists, even — suffered. But a credentialed journalist — not the kind with Kinko-manufactured press badges — should be able to observe police actions without needing to cut quid pro quo arrangements.

** If a news organization makes a deal with law enforcement for special treatment and an agreement to stay silent on certain issues for an agreed-upon period of time, does the news organization have a responsibility to tell the audience that the report being delivered is part of an agreement with the officials he/she is covering not to be chased from the scene in exchange for…. something?

It’s unclear why credentialed journalists were swept up on Thursday night. Police Chief John Harrington said it was difficult to tell the “real” journalists from the phony ones. But from the advantage of his position, Nelson wrote, he could see some of the journalists being picked up had RNC credentials. The police didn’t have to figure out who was who: the Secret Service had already done that when it did a background check on everyone who applied for those credentials.

On the air with MPR’s Cathy Wurzer on Friday morning, Nelson clearly had some after-the-fact insight into how everything went down on the cops’ side, but we made a mistake, perhaps, in not disclosing the arrangement that allowed him to acquire it. Asked about the arrests of local journalists, he said that police had clearly ordered people to move.

  1. Listen Tim Nelson and Cathy Wurzer

On his blog, he answered the question of why some people were arrested and some weren’t in a slightly different way:

Because last week, the St. Paul police offered the media — or at least those who showed up to a meeting at the Western District police offices — the opportunity to accompany the officers among St. Paul’s “mobile field force” teams.

St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington told MPR News today that all local news organizations were offered the embedded positions, but the protections that Nelson suggests it afforded, did not extend to all journalists — real journalists — at Thursday’s night’s events.

  1. Listen St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington

    September 5, 2008

“News organizations took volunteers, and I guess not everybody wanted to do that. We just offered the chance to be embedded over the four days, and we had 8 slots to offer people, and all slots were filled. We made that an open opportunity,” he said. Some local news organizations declined the offer. Why?

  1. Listen Chief Harrington on media participation in embedding deal

Late on Friday, MPR News Director Bill Wareham further clarified the arrangement between Nelson and the St. Paul police:

He signed a liability waiver.

He agreed that if he went on a ride-along for a day, he wouldn’t publish/broadcast anything about it until the end of the convention.

In his words, “The agreement was that they would let me do my job if I let them do theirs and didn’t disclose their methods before the end of the convention. I was not in the area when the order to disperse was given, and never there without a police escort.” Also, “The sergeant told me that the safest place was behind their line and that if I got in front of them I would not be allowed to cross back into their lines. ‘You’re on your own out there,’ I believe she said to me.”

Because of the post-convention embargo, we decided that if we took advantage of the ride-along opportunity, it wouldn’t be until Thursday so the information wouldn’t be stale. We did take advantage of the opportunity Thursday, but all of his protest coverage earlier in the week had no arrangement with the cops attached

Meanwhile, Amnesty International joined in the chorus of criticism against police force this week:

The organization’s concerns arise from media reports, video and photographic images which appear to show police officers deploying unnecessary and disproportionate use of non-lethal weapons on non-violent protesters marching through the streets or congregating outside the arena where the Convention was being held.

Police are reported to have fired rubber bullets and used batons, pepper spray, tear gas canisters and concussion grenades on peaceful demonstrators and journalists. Amnesty International has also received unconfirmed reports that some of those arrested during the demonstrations may have been ill-treated while held at Ramsey county jail.

The human rights organization is calling for an investigation. On MPR’s Midmorning today, Mayor Chris Coleman said there would be “a review” of the police performance, but when pressed on how he felt about it, Coleman said “I feel great.”

  • Deb in St. Paul

    Very interesting! Thanks for the report, Bob. I’m a former journalist in a different profession now, but like to keep informed the journalism profession and particularly ethics & the media.

  • MNObserver

    What would we all be saying if Tim Nelson had embedded with the RNC Welcoming Committee? What if he’d seen tactics on the part of the police that were patently illegal? What if he’d heard “let’s get those uppity n*****s now!” What if he’d been privy to things that ought to be reported right away?

    And when did the tactics used in war zones become the way we do things in Saint Paul?

  • Bob Collins

    by virtue of their position, as I said, virtually all reporters were embedded at the protest sites with the RNC Welcoming Committee. As for the comments of police, a person allowed access near the police has a closer ear to what the cops are saying than someone who is on the run.

    Where a reporter stands at a protest is indicative of the view a reporter gets — that’s pretty much all we’re talking about here. Tim was under no obligation — and would spit in the eye of anyone who would propose the idea — to accept and report what the cops wanted him to report. There’s nothing in the agreement that required that. He was simply getting a perspective of the events that the majority of people did not get, and there was no shortage of MPR reporters at the site to get another perspective to go with it.

    In other words, two sides of the story.

  • What would we all be saying if Tim Nelson had embedded with the RNC Welcoming Committee?…What if he’d been privy to things that ought to be reported right away?

    Er – that’s presumably why he held off until Thursday…

    And when did the tactics used in war zones become the way we do things in Saint Paul?

    What – I missed the airstrikes, tanks and JDAMs?

    What precisely are you talking about?

  • Dave

    I’m sorry, but the embedding process is just one more effort to control the press rather than any extended attempt to allow access. The police know who the embedded reporters are and utilize procedures and adjust their conduct accordingly. If you watched NOW on channel 2 and saw the interview with Amy Goodman — you see how non-embedded reporters get treated. Her credentials were ripped away. Her colleagues were dragged on the ground even though thely clearly had proper credentials. Because they were not the embedded or chosen ones, does that mean their access can be negated? Maybe the police have no obligation to protect or treat regular reporters differently than protesters if they do not follow specific orders — but they do have an obligation to protect first amendment rights and should be willing to allow for press coverage if it is clearly demonstrated as to who they are. Mr. Nelson may be a fine reporter, but he lost the ability to be fully objective when he signed on to a controlling process from people in positions of authority. The protesters had a right to be heard (not a right to destroy property) but that right to be heard is doubly silenced if the press is following rules designed to regulate any objectivity.

  • GregS

    The comments on this thread go a long way toward explaining why Kerry lost to Bush in 2004 and why Obama may lose to McCain.

    The public’s distrust of liberals runs deeper than its anger at Republican and it is not that hard to figure out why.

    Both Saint Paul and Minneapolis have extremely progressive liberal governments. To the best of my knowledge neither city has a Republican on its Council.

    In both cities, the police answer to strong mayors and strong, somewhat radical city councils and every appointment to senior levels in the police departments must be approved by both mayor and council.

    Yet here we have progressives and liberals distrusting and resenting the police.

    Friends….these are the police YOU control.

    If you cannot trust yourselves to rule a city, why would anyone trust you with the rule of a state or nation?

  • Bob Collins

    But where’s the evidence of that, Dave. I would tend to agree with you IF there was only one reporter assigned to the overall story, but in this case, there were more than a half-dozen on the scene, all but one was on the other side of the police lines.

    The Goodman situation is an easy one. The problem I have with it is people have made “journalists” and “goodman” identifcal. What we can actually ACCURATELY say is that Amy Goodman got treated the way that Amy Goodman got treated. But most journalists did not.

    In other words, there’s another side to every story and every angle. Even the “how journalists got treated” has several sides of the story even within the journalists’ ranks.

    True journalism isn’t a matter of throwing a dart and picking the one you believe. True journalism is a matter of documenting as many sides within the story as possible and continuing to search .

    But don’t tell the person with the Kinko’s journalist “credentials,” who screamed “media,” but turned out to be a clerk at Walgreen’s.

  • Imbedded newspaper journalists gave away alot, even if they did not intend too:

    1)Freedom of movement – even as a wimpy citizen journalist, I noticed the police trying to keep things out of my view, sometimes deliberately blocking my view. Fortunately I could move. An imbedded reporter is stuck and could easily be kept out of seeing the important action. Also the police could strategically use tear gas and flash bombs to create a scene that is artificially chaotic and lies about the peaceful protest that was happening just a minute ago.

    2) Timewise the story was killed, essentially by delaying the story you told a lie of nothing happening to your viewers for four nights.

    3) Perspective – I can tell you the perspective looks a whole lot different when a police officer is pointing a weapon that is about to cause a great deal of pain, with hate in his eyes, than it looks behind the scenes. Did you see the extra twists in arms, the extra tight handcuffs, hmmm?

    I got tips, stories and information from people on the street. I was reachable. Who could approach a reporter inside of the police, when people approaching police were maced?

    4) Potential for Indoctrination – I go out of my way to hear all the sides of a story, for we are social creatures, we like to agree and get along with people we are with. Naturally we will be indoctrinated by any group we hang around with.

    5) Credibility – I know that in comparing my experiences every day and in what my pathetic journalism skills were able to get – that the major networks really really failed in reporting. It sure does look like the networks are deliberately crafting the news not fairly reporting the news. MPR was the closest to what I saw on the street.

    6) Respect – As citizen journalists, we were threatened by tear gas, threatened by mace, being followed, being questioned, and always faced the possibility of arrest and equipment being damaged. What did imbedded paid official reporters face?

  • William Right

    Wake up citizens! While the country is engrossed in politics, the high price of gas, oil, and other commodities, the war on terror. (Situations that have been generated by power brokers) Our freedoms are being picked off one by one. Cut a deal, craft a story, Watch while we contain the rowdy protesters in the chaos we precipitated (were they really police or some other group hired for the occasion?) This is outrageous and only the very beginnings of what will happen if “we the people” don’t stand up for our rights. Unfortunately I believe that not much, if anything will come of “looking into” the situation. It may be to late already for freedom of speech.

  • Bob Collins

    Grace, the flaw in the argument is it’s too micro. Explain to me how a journalism organization can have TOO MANY perspectives?

    throughout much of tthis week — and this is hardly news for a news organization — we’ve seen a lot of people try to redefine good journalism as “my side of the story.”

    More and more in our society people want their views reflected back at them and it’s an uncomfortable situation when they’re not. The stump speeches displaying a concern for the future of free speech ring hollow when it also includes a desire that only one side of a story be told by journalists.

    The irony here, of course, is that Republicans inside the Xcel Center who cheered loudly at every attack on the media and who turned and hissed like serpents when those rhetorical flourishes were fed to them like red meat share this sentiment with the very protesters who appear to disagree with them on every other aspect of their philosophy. But not on that one.

    As for citizen journalists, I no longer know what that means. I understand the concept; I favor the concept. But far too often this week I saw people who were protestes when it was convenient to be a protester, and a journalist when it was convenient to be a journalist and, frankly, I find that a putrid situation.

    Pick one or the other. (I’m not saying that’s your case, Grace)

    The key here isn’t so much what’s happening with the individual reporter, but what’s happening with the information that ALL of the reporters are providing. someone has to sort that out and organize it in a coherent fashion.

    Your point #2 is simply a complete fabrication or a mere product of ignorance that destroys your claims of going out of your way to get all sides of the story.

    In this case, you don’t know what you don’t know.t.

    If you were out on the streets, #1, you weren’t listening to MPR so you really don’t know what we were telling people. #2, we never — EVER — said nothing was happening on those evenings in question when something was, obviously happening. Heck, you could have learned that just by clicking through the convention coverage. You could have learned that just by reading this very blog. But you obviously didn’t or you wouldn’t have written such an obviously mistaken sentence.

    THIS is the part of citizen journalism that scares me more than anything else. That that sort of “reporting” gets passed off as actual journalism merely because some people decided one day to call themselves journalists.

    It’s not that easy, or should it be.

    There are some really poor mainstream journalists, who aren’t going to let facts get in the way of a good story and there are really poor citizen journalists who aren’t going to bother asking questions before determining what the story is.

    THAT’s the biggest threat to the future of democracy.

    There was some REALLY fabulous citizen journalism done here this week — I highlighted some of it here a few days ago, and I found it interesting to listen to Michael Caputo’s piece on the View of Protest. Same event, same location, same time, two different perspectives.

    Now based on what I’ve seen in some of the stump speeches on the subject, the truth is that which most favors the side of the person who wants “their” side to benefit from it. In this case, however, there are two different versions of events — both from THE SAME SIDE OF THE POLICE LINES.

  • Hi Bob,

    Even the legacy media don’t bother asking questions before “determining what the story is”. Case in point, let’s look at the story in today’s Star Tribune from David Chanen who was “embedded” with the police stationed outside of The UpTake’s offices at 411 Main.

    Chanen reports :

    Within minutes of the protest’s kickoff, (Cmdr Steve) Frazer received word that 30 anarchists were handing out gas masks at the State Capitol. Then came a report that 40 people on the third floor of the Labor and Professional Center a half-block away “were not friendly to police,” but he had no indication they were going to do anything.

    KSTP-TV carried Frazer’s quote as well, which on video was:

    “The trades building, third floor, 30 to 40 people who are unfriendly to us is what intel is telling us.”

    Both KSTP and the Star Tribune had 4-5 days to find out what was meant by that quote.

    Those people on the third floor were independent journalists working out of media space provided by The UpTake. The only other folks on that floor are dentists, pipe fitters and firefighters. As for not being police friendly, we let the officers use our restrooms, gave them coffee when they asked and provided them with soft drinks while they were working. That all happened after the first day of the protests. At best shows how sketchy police information can be. At worst it fits a pattern of authorities directing police to target journalists who were covering the protests.

    So why wasn’t such a basic fact checked by the legacy media reporters? Having worked the “embedded” side of a story before, I know it’s because it’s easier for embedded reporters to present only the perspective that is in front of them. Time is usually a factor in this, but with 4-5 days from incident to report, you would think that would not be the case here.

    If you find it “putrid” that people can be journalists and citizens with a voice at the same time, you should find it putrid that people can be journalists and essentially PR conduits for the police at the same time because it’s convenient.

    The underlying point is we need to stop trying to portray journalists as objective. Objectivity is a myth. We all have different life experiences and we filter what we see through those experiences. What is needed is transparency. You need to let your audience know what that filter is that you see life through. In politics, that’s unfortunately been reduced to simple “liberal” and “conservative” labels — which like most sweeping generalizations can misrepresent a lot of important nuances.

    Unfortunately, legacy media do not want to have reporters reveal their “filters” because their organization would be attacked as being biased in one way or another, which could have financial implications from sponsors, underwriters or advertisers. It’s important for reporters to not reveal these biases because that would harm their reputation, which could kill their career in the legacy media. The truth is, we are all biased in one way or another.

    As journalists we need to stop treating “objectivity” as our gold standard. Instead, we should focus on fairness, truth and accuracy. “Balance” is often a poor substitution for truth and accuracy. Journalists put up a quote by one side and then another and say the story is “balanced”, but what the reader, viewer or listener gets is not accurate nor the truth because the reporter has not taken (or been given) the time to truly investigate and find out what is real.

    It’s in our audience’s best interest. They want the truth. And we should be telling them what we believe to be the truth, and not constrain ourselves by “balance” or allowing ourselves to be indoctrinated by groups that just want their side of the story presented.

  • Bob Collins

    //The underlying point is we need to stop trying to portray journalists as objective. Objectivity is a myth. We all have different life experiences and we filter what we see through those ex

    I’ve written this over the past 5 years many, many times. We all have biases, and it’s important that those be stated.


    There is still a concept of fairness that must be upheld, no matter the cost. Balance? The concept of that is pretty much what you described.

    Similarly, I believe “the truth” is also an invalid concept for journalists. What we end up telling is “the truths.” I’m not entirely convinced there is such a thing as THE truth.

    I know a lot of public relations people who consider themselves journalists. Much of the “media” that I saw on the streets this week were merely the public relations arm of the people they favor. That’s why I think it’s important to provide as many perspectives as possible.

    If you’re asking me to defend everything about “legacy” media, you’re talking to the wrong person. But I’d like to see the response from citizen journalists who do a poor job be something a little more vibrant than , “but you stink too.” (g)

    I think journalism is really important. I think it’s powerful. I think it’s what defends the country in many ways. To that end, I’d like to see people who want to do it commit to it.

    I think what we’ll see is within the ‘citizen journalism’ arena, there will begin to be the same aristocracy that exists in the legacy media. Those cj’s that do it well — and a handful of them have been singled out thris week — will do it well and be the standard by which other cj is judged. Those that do it poorly will be regarded in a different light. But at the moment, all CJ is painted with a pretty broad brush because so many people have adopted the “I think, therefore I am” definition of journalist.

    What I don’t really see being sorted out soon is HOW journalism is going to matter enough to those who don’t make their living in it to do it consistently well? I tend to think people work harder at doing good journalism when they don’t have the gig at Walgreen’s to fall back on.

    As for the people I saw — the so-called Kinko’s journalists — when are the people you serve going to be the people who read/watch your material rather than the individual cause of which you’re a part? And if you were “real” journalists, wouldn’t you be occasionally covering stuff that isn’t associated with the cause you represent?

  • Elizabeth T.

    Re: indoctrination

    If this argument is to be fairly applied to the people standing with the police, it must be equally applied to those standing with the protesters. Could one not argue they are both subject to indoctrination?

    The fact that the protesters did not have a unified message is irrelevant. It is just as simple to get swept up in the moment on either side of the line.

    I find some groups of “protesters” just as unwilling to accept any view other than their own. (I met some of them last week.) I believe this might be equally applied to journalists: some come with a pre-conceived notion of what they are going to see.

    Again, as mentioned by others before, I do *not* claim nor imply any this applies to you. I sincerely accept your position of wanting to report both sides of a story, and your concern that it isn’t. I simply don’t see how your actions are any different than Mr. Nelson’s actions. He chose one way, you would have chosen another.

    Are journalists, of any stripe, obliged to tell both/all sides? Yes.

    One can attend some white-supremacist organization in order to report factually their actions/opinions, if for no other reason than to reveal what you find a morally repulsive group. Does this imply she will be indoctrinated, even if the group knows she’s a reporter? Assuming a reporter believes the police to be some arm of a fascist regime … would this not be the same? Would this person not want to personally observe the police’s actions to reveal some moral failure?

    MPR had a form back in May regarding the media & how it works, which included the topic of citizen journalism, which might also simply be regarded as “no otherwise associated” journalism. It was a very interesting discussion (and is located somewhere on their website).

    The police department’s decision to invite multiple journalists from multiple sources implies to me their willingness for a multi-faceted story to be told. Afterall, if everyone except one person reports the same basic information, it would be worthwhile to examine that exception. Was that person pressured [i.e., indoctrinated]? Or was that person unnecessarily biased? or something else?

    One could review the journalist’s prior work, to consider whether the report from “behind the lines” is of equal quality or bias as before. (and, at least with Mr. Nelson, there is quite a bit to consider, unlike the hypothetical situation of me trying to do this.)

  • DPowell

    I was a member of a Mobile Field Force from Minneapolis and would like to respond to the Amnesty International press release referenced in Bob’s story.

    Police did not fire rubber bullets or use concussion grenades. This type of ordinance was not carried by any police department involved in the RNC.

    I suspect AI is referring to “marking rounds” used to single out and ID suspects and “flash bangs” which are used to startle and disorient.

    It is also my understanding that CS gas was only used in the Shephard Rd incident, although I could be wrong about this. Smoke canisters were used to simulate gas in some instances. I suspect that the use of pepper spray in the presence of smoke led many to believe that CS gas was used. A good rule of thumb would be this: if the police were not wearing masks, CS was not used.

  • //And if you were “real” journalists, wouldn’t you be occasionally covering stuff that isn’t associated with the cause you represent?

    In the legacy media those are called “beats”. People are assigned to cover the areas they are most knowledgeable about. Therein lies the answer to your question of how citizen journalism is sustainable. It is driven by people who are looking for an outlet for their knowledge.

    Last I looked they weren’t handing out licenses to practice journalism. However, I and several of the people who volunteer for The UpTake do have journalism degrees and we are the gatekeepers. We vet and scrutinize stories before they go on our site. We put people we trust to be accurate in the position of having live cell phone cameras that have direct access to our site with streaming video. Not every video or story is published and a lot goes back for reworking or additional information.

    I believe what we are doing at The UpTake is the best model so far for citizen journalism. It has an editorial process. It has standards. And most of all it has journalists with decades of experience enabling regular citizens to use the mass media tools that used to be only reserved for those who who could afford to own a broadcast license or a large corporation.

  • Yes, we’re still trying to figure out how to deal with the fact that the floodgates of journalism are open. At the very minimum, like you say Bob, we have more perspectives than ever and that’s a Good Thing. The hard part is nothing new: Deciding who to trust; something that must be built up over time and earned.

    As for embedding journalists with the police, I’m very much in favor of it. I personally would not have sacrificed the timeliness of reporting in exchange for access, but otherwise I may have jumped at the chance. One of the biggest problems we have is getting an honest law enforcement perspective. It’s a lot like dealing with the military – they are controlled, protective/secretive and sometimes unwilling to acknowledge the reality outside that sphere. (Hmm, you might say the same applies to the RNC Welcoming Committee.)

    By the way, where are MPR’s credentials laminated? Wouldn’t it be funny if you were including yourselves in the dismissive “Kinkos journalist” label?

  • The police should be commended for allowing journalists to follow along with them. You’d never have that perspective otherwise. I too would have jumped at the chance to be there. What I’m reading in the comments here is a desire for REPORTING. Questioning. Getting another viewpoint, even if you’re embedded with police.

    This is where a lot of the CJ coverage of this week fell short. It was all experiential, as-it-happened stuff. Which was cool, awesome, fascinating, and ultimately helpful coverage. It was great. But there wasn’t a lot of reporting. I heard narrators to live video talk about police going too far, and police overreacting. Which is fine if you’ve covered a riot before. But when it’s the first time you’ve been in the middle of the crap, you might want to be careful about judging it.

    Bottom line: Embedding is good. You’re being granted access to one viewpoint. You still have to do your job and get other viewpoints. Or your organization has to be big enough to be getting other viewpoints.

  • I should clarify: the MSM also fell short in doing its job of questioning/reporting. I saw far too many stories where reporters painted the story as protesters=evil and cops=heroes.

  • Monica

    Just a few thoughts: not being a journalist myself, but as a reader, I don’t completely trust a story reported by an embedded journalist. Not so much that the facts of that particular story may not be true, but I wonder if there is not a temptation to soften the story a bit, so that there will be another opportunity for that particular journalist again. My guess is that unflattering reportage would not be rewarded with another invitation. Also, if this becomes standard practice in your profession, particularly in dealing with the police, mainstream journalists who choose a more independent method of reporting will become marginalized and the public will have less information, not more, and that’s bad for a democracy. Or so I’ve heard.

  • Bob Collins

    Monica, you raise a very important point and, yes, I think there is a danger for journalists — all kinds — to pull a punch to keep an avenue of accessibility open.

    Your instinct not to trust a story reported by an embed is a good one. As I said before, the stew is the totality of the coverage, not one angle.

    Chuck, other than those issued by the sponsors of an event, I almost never wear press credentials.

    For the convention, MPR handed out bright blue T-shirts with , I think, PRESS on the back. I didn’t wear those either.

    The reasons I don’t are a whole ‘nother thread, but it basically involves me not wanting people to know what I do for a living.

    Jason hits on another point: The one side is right and one side is wrong. That, too, is a whole ‘nother thread, but that’s how we see most political ISSUES presented too.: the good vs. evil approach.

    I think this is one of those areas where people in the middle, politically speaking, are quite alienated because the people in the middle tend to see merits in the arguments of both sides of any issue.

  • Bob Collins

    Michael. I couldn’t agree with your points more. I think the Uptake did an outstanding job this week in particular.

    My guess is that just about every MSM organization is going to be getting those live cellphonecams and putting in the streaming ability. You will change MSM as well as CJ.

    The UpTake has a reputation and a following. People know to trust it. They’re local (You’re local). You have knowledge of your cities. You have a sense of responsiblity and ethics. You have studied journalism and you take it seriously.

    That’s the minimum, I think, of what anybody can reasonably expect. I think that’s the definition of a “real journalist.”

    You take citizen journalism to an entirely different level., and that’s what I was referring to when I suggested that over time, there will be several levels of CJ. Right now CJ — like MSM, frankly — is lumped into one preconceived definition.

    Your brand of CJ will improve journalism in all its various flavors and that’s a great thing for all

  • The Uptake’s Exec. Producer has contacted me, and informed me that one of the statements that I thought was a CJ complaining about police going too far, was in fact from a protester, not a journalist. As I haven’t watched all of their live coverage, nor the coverage of all CJs, it’s possible that I’m overstating the perceived slant of their coverage.

    I agree with Bob’s point about the levels of CJs. The Uptake — especially Chuck and Noah — is top notch. I love how Chuck blends humor with his coverage. It’s something I’ve tried to do for years on the regular TV.

    I hope the CJ community will be willing to take on some self-examination about what went right and what could have been better. I think right now it’s like a lot of new things that are driven by passion. People get ticked when others raise concerns. In fact, it says a lot about how far the concept has come that people who care about journalism, care about CJ as well.

  • A fine discussion going on here, but I still feel like I need to clarify a few things on behalf of Tim Nelson and Minnesota Public Radio News.

    What we’re calling “embedding” here is a combination of two relatively common journalistic practices: One, the “ride-along,” where the journalist tags along with someone engaged in an interesting enterprise that most of the public doesn’t have the opportunity to experience up close; two, the “embargo,” a practice in which the journalist agrees to hold on to information until a pre-arranged time.

    In this case, the ride-along part of the arrangement allowed Tim to get close to cops on Thursday, talk to them and observe their tactics up close. As far as I’m aware from what Tim has told me and what I observed, he got no special legal treatment. In fact, he had to sign a waiver of liability. Any getting inside the police line came at his own risk, just like any other journalist.

    Might Tim have coaxed his way out of trouble that night more easily than another journalist who hadn’t made such an arrangement? Maybe. Not, however, because of some prior quid pro quo agreement. Rather, because of what good journalists do in pursuit of a story, establish relationships. As others have suggested in this thread, a laminated “credential” is too easy to come by and not going to get you very far. But what it represents just might. In Tim Nelson’s case, his years of solid work covering public safety from ALL perspectives and, I hope, MPR News’s reputation for fair journalism helped us get one angle on a complex story that not every news organization was able to capture.

    In the course of the week that was the one time Tim, or any other MPR reporter, covered the confrontations from that particular perspective. Otherwise, we were in crowds of protesters, watching from the sidelines, monitoring police scanners and Twitter feeds, heading to news conferences called by public safety officials and protesters, and actively seeking out perspectives of people who had interesting viewpoints. I think it all added up to a compelling, complex view of the week’s activities.

    I’m not going to get too much into the “embargo” aspect of the arrangement here, if only because that’s a whole lot to chew on and the only thing I want to chew on at the moment is lunch.

    Suffice it to say, I consider embargoes a sometimes necessary evil of reporting. I try to limit their use when possible (and for the record, you who would try to impose them on MPR, you shouldn’t consider an embargo agreed upon unless MPR actively agrees to it. You send us information with an embargo stamp on it at your own risk.)

    In this case, we tried to minimize the effect of the embargo by waiting until Thursday for our behind-the-scenes access. As a practical matter, that meant Tim ended up reporting on his embargoed material at pretty the same time he would’ve had there been no embargo, Friday on Morning Edition.

    The bottom line for me is this: Tim Nelson did an excellent job reporting on street action during the RNC from all perspectives. He did that using the tools that good journalists use, including established relationships with sources. He and the entire MPR News staff (Bob Collins included), provided well-rounded coverage of the week’s events and served our audiences well.

    -Bill Wareham

    News Director

    Minnesota Public Radio News

  • Deb in St. Paul

    After reading Bill Wareham’s note, I would like to say that I wish that more media were disclosing about their news gathering processes.

    I am a fan of reader reps/listener reps (ombudsmen). Unfortunately those positions are being cut, not added, such as what happened at the Minneapolis Star Tribune this past year.