The media today: Charlottesville (and America) in a single frame

It’s being called “The photo from Charlottesville that will define this moment in American history.” On his last day with The Daily Progress, photographer Ryan Kelly captured the tragedy and tumult stemming from this weekend’s “Unite the Right” rally in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. Kelly spoke with CJR about the harrowing experience behind the photo. In the shot, people are flying into the air as a Dodge Challenger plows through protesters demonstrating against white nationalists. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and at least 19 others were injured.

Kelly’s photo is unsettling, chaotic, and violent. But it’s more than just a single image; it’s an embodiment of the current state of this country (and also where it’s heading). “The picture is a visual expression of simply how strange America feels right now,” writes Alyssa Rosenberg in The Washington Post. It’s an America where the president refuses to condemn domestic terrorism; where labels like “far-right or alt-right” mask racism, bigotry, and intolerance; and where journalists need to reconfigure how they do their jobs in an era marked by false equivalencies, alternative facts, and 140 characters.

One way is to develop a unified front. On CNN’s “Reliable Sources” this Sunday, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik delved into how news organizations collectively turned against the White House “in a way that was direct and focused” following the Charlottesville tragedy: “Straightforward reporters as well as folks on the left and the right [were] almost beseeching the president and the administration to get in front of this, or at least get in the moment, and it didn’t happen.” Presidential rhetoric matters, and the media is calling him out. Even The New York Post, Trump’s preferred paper (which has lost some of its love for the president lately), criticized the president for missing the mark on Charlottesville.

Another way? Skip ambiguity. Journalists reporting on Charlottesville face challenges as they choose their words, images and sounds. Poynter compiled some best practices on how to cover what happened this weekend. For example, descriptors like “alt-right” are too vague. Instead, focus on what people were saying and doing: “Explain that they chanted Nazi slogans including ‘Sieg Heil,’ a victory salute used originally by Nazis at political rallies.” More on Charlottesville:


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Meg Dalton is a CJR Delacorte Fellow. Find her on Twitter @megdalts.