The media today: The most difficult place in America to practice journalism

Right now, the most difficult place in America to be a journalist is arguably St. Louis, Missouri. It has been more than two weeks since Jason Stockley, the white former police officer who fatally shot Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man, in 2011, was acquitted by a St. Louis judge, and protests over racial inequalities show no signs of abating. Journalists covering the protests have been caught in the middle of the action, enduring tear gas and rough treatment from both police and protesters.

On Tuesday night, reporter Jordan Chariton and cameraman Ty Bayliss, both journalists for The Young Turks, were arrested. So were independent live-streamer Jon Ziegler and freelance photojournalist Daniel Shular. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has done excellent work reporting out these incidents; so far, the project has documented 27 arrests and 25 physical attacks on journalists across the US in 2017. One trend that’s evident in the Tracker’s data is the prevalence of incidents occurring at protests.

ICYMI: The first reporter to arrive at Vegas gunman’s house has covered the story in many ways – except one

At the Paley Center’s Tuesday evening panel on the state of press freedom in America, several journalists referenced the dangers facing journalists covering protests in 2017. The Press Freedom Tracker is a new project, so it’s impossible to compare its data to past years, but there’s no denying the reality that frequent and increasingly visible protests have placed journalists in difficult situations.

The nightly protests in St. Louis are into their third week, with authorities on Tuesday evening taking 143 people into custody, a high-water mark in terms of police action. Despite their size and longevity, the protests haven’t drawn the sort of national attention that greeted those in nearby Ferguson three years ago. That should change. Reports of excessive force by police have been prevalent, and journalists are needed on the ground to accurately document the events and tell the stories of both protesters and police. As St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Mike Faulk said after he was arrested while covering protests in September, “I can’t imagine how one-sided this discussion would be about what happened on Sunday night if not just reporters, but other people filming, weren’t there or somehow did not have the ability to do that.”

Below, more on the St. Louis protests and the threats to journalists who cover them.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that former officer Jason Stockley was acquitted by a jury. Stockley waived his right to a jury trial, and was acquitted by Judge Timothy J. Wilson. 

ICYMI: We looked at newspaper headlines around the Vegas massacre. We found some unsettling trends.

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.