advertisement

'Citizens for Justice' activist given permission to film court hearing for Hobson exposé

Wednesday, February 22, 2012 | 10:51 p.m. CST; updated 7:21 a.m. CST, Thursday, February 23, 2012

COLUMBIA — A local activist has been given permission to film court proceedings for a project he is pursuing on alleged misconduct in the prosecution of those involved in the Aaron Hobson case.

Matthew Akins, who created and runs a non-traditional media outlet called Citizens for Justice, said he is planning to do an "exposé" on how Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight and Columbia police handled the investigation and the prosecution of the defendants in the case. 

MoreStory


Related Media

Related Articles

Hobson, 22, was shot and killed in October 2010 at a Break Time convenience store on Nifong Boulevard. Eight suspects were arrested in the case; seven were convicted, though only two went to trial. One of those two, Tony Lewis, was acquitted earlier this month.

To make his documentary, Akins said he needs access to court footage, both by filming in court and by having access to footage filmed by other media outlets. 

Akins said he made a request to KMIZ-TV for footage of Lewis' trial but was denied. Curtis Varns, news director at KMIZ, said the footage had already been deleted when Akins requested it. 

According to a court rule, a media outlet must apply for permission to film in court. If it is granted permission, it must then provide that footage to all other media outlets that request it. Who qualifies as a media representative is not addressed in the rule.

Varns said that typically, footage is usually only shared on the day it is collected. But if Akins had requested the footage during Lewis' trial, he would still have been denied, Varns said, because the judge had not ruled that Citizens for Justice is a media outlet.

Until that happens, Varns said, he will follow the judge's directions on a case-by-case basis.

Judge Gary Oxenhandler allowed Akins to film the hearing of Tabisha Franklin, who faces a charge of driving with a revoked license, on Tuesday. Her attorney, public defender Justin Carver, has filed a motion alleging that Franklin has been the object of prosecutorial misconduct by Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight, who wanted Franklin to provide him with information on one or more of the Hobson cases. Akins is including Franklin's case and others in his documentary.

The permission the judge granted Akins was limited. According to CaseNet, Oxenhandler's decision does not mean that Citizens for Justice will be considered a part of the media in the future.

Akins said he was glad the judge allowed him to film.

"I appreciate that they let me film (Tuesday)," Akins said. "That shows that there's some level of them wanting to allow me to do this."

But he said he was still frustrated by the limitations.

Varns said the judge's ruling to allow Akins to film Tuesday's hearing had no bearing on whether he would provide Akins with footage in the future.

Allegations of misconduct

In the motion Carver filed Feb. 15, he alleges that Knight learned that Franklin might have had knowledge related to the Hobson slaying. After she refused to give information to the police and the prosecutor's office, Knight took action that resulted in a more serious charge for Franklin, according to the motion. That action was asking the City Prosecutor, Stephen Richey, to dismiss Franklin's misdemeanor charge for driving with a revoked license and transfer it to the Boone County Prosecutor's Office, where Franklin was charged with a felony for the same offense.

The motion alleges that Knight took similar action in another case relating to the Hobson murder.

Knight said he does not understand why Carver's motion names him instead of Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Roger Johnson, who is the prosecutor in Franklin's case. 

Johnson said there is nothing legally wrong in transferring a case from a municipal court to a county court. He said Carver did not cite the law correctly in his motion and that Carver does not understand that the law allows for what the prosecutor did.

"People can file any kind of motion they want. It doesn't mean that it's true, it doesn't mean that it's legally sound," Johnson said. "But it takes tremendous resources on our part to prove to the court that it’s not."

He also noted that the safety of the community is at stake when the prosecutor's office seeks help from possible witnesses. 

"Our ability to try to get cooperation from people is a serious public safety concern," Johnson said.

Oral arguments on Carver's motion were scheduled for Monday in Oxenhandler's court.


Like what you see here? Become a member.


Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Comments

Mike Martin February 22, 2012 | 11:10 p.m.

The future of journalism -- at least, a significant part of it.

Great case study for a Mizzou J-school student.

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 22, 2012 | 11:47 p.m.

Comments should be interesting on this one...lol

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 23, 2012 | 1:15 a.m.

My first request for the footage came during the trial and KMIZ knows it. I was subsequently called the day after it ended and told by a reporter that they had the footage, but wanted to know if I could get in contact with Mr. Lewis or his attorney for them to do an interview. Although I understood I was under no obligation to make any contacts for them, I made a call as a show of professional courtesy and Mr. Lewis' attorney conducted interview the next day.

After that, KMIZ had what they wanted and had no more use for CFJ; We received no further communications from them, prompting me to call back and eventually show up to the station. During these contacts, as well as separate contacts my attorney had with them and the head media coordinator, we received conflicting accounts as to whether I was to receive the footage or if it even still existed.

I was told over the phone that they don't give footage to media outlets who weren't in attendance at the trial or hearing they're requesting footage from. This came in response to my question as to whether or not KRCG would be treated as CFJ had been treated if they requested the footage. I've read through Court Operating Rule 16(There is a link to this in the above article) and couldn't find anything about this. So in essence, KMIZ has no problem adding extra regulations to the rule when it benefits them(ie maintaining a monopoly on pool footage that is designated by law to be open to other media outlets), but when we're talking about giving up exclusive access to that same footage, as in this case, they have to wait for a ruling.

I would be interested to know the date a judge ruled KMIZ was media enough for the media pool; Since it's obviously such a big deal and every media outlet has to be ruled on before they're allowed to film.

The bottom line is this: If we're not media enough for the media pool, what do we need to do to earn that accreditation that we haven't done already?

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 23, 2012 | 1:16 a.m.

*that they had the footage AND COULD GET IT TO ME

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 23, 2012 | 8:56 a.m.

*conducted an interview the next day.

Sorry, it was late when I typed that.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking February 23, 2012 | 10:08 a.m.

Matthew Akins wrote:

"The bottom line is this: If we're not media enough for the media pool, what do we need to do to earn that accreditation that we haven't done already?"

What are your qualifications to do it now? I'm not attacking you, I'm curious.

People that do responsible jobs typically have a lot of training under mentors of various sorts, and these mentors make sure (at least they're supposed to) that certain standards of a field are met.

No one would hire me for my current job without a lot of training and experience. No one would hire my boss without a terminal degree and a track record of achievement. Is journalism any different?

DK

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 23, 2012 | 10:33 a.m.

Mark: My cell phone takes videos.

Does that count?

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 23, 2012 | 12:17 p.m.

No, good question DK.

Compared to the more traditional media outlets, we have less experience, both educationally and in the field. I would never make a statement to the contrary.

In May of 2010, CFJ began to formulate;

The first things that were worked on were the individual officer's articles, followed by a realization that some of the cases of misconduct had so much info they would be better fit for a separate section, and that there were terms the average public wouldn't understand or would want to know more about, prompting the creation of a glossary section(articles detailing the history and function of the terms).

I paid, out of my pocket, for some of the articles to be researched and written by an MU English graduate(not quite journalism I know, but close), and others to be proofread for accuracy and integrity, as well as spelling and grammar by the same person(they were also checked over by other people with differing backgrounds including those with qualifications and experience in the legal field).

During this process, we invested thousands of hours(this is in no way an understatement) watching/reading through thousands(if not tens of thousands) of articles dating back to 1993 from a variety of news sources, both local and national(the journalistic nature of Columbia made this a monumental task). I guess I can't speak for everybody in the group, but every article I read or watched taught me something new about journalism(maybe not every single article, but you get what I'm saying). I wasn't reading/watching the articles solely to read them, I was examining the structure, the way they were put together, the way quotes were used to demonstrate a perspective, etc.

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 23, 2012 | 12:20 p.m.

I purchased the camera and video editing computer in the beginning 2011, with money my grandfather had left me upon his death, and slowly began getting the hang of things.

The first videos were pretty primitive, but improved with every production.

Every time we attended/filmed a CPRB meeting, City Council meeting, training session, or conference, we communicated with, watched, and learned from the other media people, as suggested by Public Relations Unit Sergeant Jill Schlude, INCLUDING KMIZ, whose camera people and reporters are always very accepting and respectful of who we are and what we do, I would like to point out(I hope I don't get them in trouble by saying this).

Sgt. Schlude even let me do an interview with her regarding the CPD's requested changes to the ordinance governing the CPRB, which was sent to and watched by the Board so they could better understand the CPD's reasoning for the changes. (http://www.youtube.com/user/CFJComo#grid...)

We weren't really acknowledged for what we were doing outside of a few blips here and there( Gary Nolan talked to Sgt. Schlude about our "This is how officers SHOULD react to you video taping them." video on his show), until the infamous "How to Handle a Questionable Encounter With the Columbia Police Department"( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCO3vL2qN... ) and all of a sudden, we went from a group striving to be recognized as a media outlet, to a group, who to some, hated and were harassing the police.

From this point, we had to defend our intentions and motivations in the comment sections of pretty much every article we were mentioned in(and some in which we weren't mentioned, lol).

There is much more to the whole story, but back to the issue at hand...

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 23, 2012 | 12:31 p.m.

We're not applying for a job. We're simply asking for equal access to the footage. We made it clear that we would pay any and all costs associated with copying that footage, but it feels as though a line is being drawn in the sand by people who don't want us to have that.

The media coordinator has let individuals who are not associated with a tradition media outlet have access to footage in the past: Tom Baker of Baker Film and Video was given access to pool footage of one of Ryan Ferguson's hearing to do an documentary on the way police and prosecutors handled the investigation into that murder case (sounds a lot like the reason we're asking for this footage, huh?)

I don't have a college education in journalism, but the truth is; I don't think I could afford one, that is unless the university started giving out scholarships for journalism like they do for sports(which I highly doubt).

Not trying to knock MU's J-school in any way; When Brad Racino did the original article on us, I was brought into Missourian's building, where I was given a tour of the facilities and explained certain aspects of how everything worked, before they shot scenes for the video piece on us( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjNqQA3gx... )

I was impressed and thrilled to have had that experience as well as to have got to watch Brad report on us as we reported on the police. It put a lot of things into perspective.

DK, your not a journalist so it would be unfair for me to ask for you to point out mistakes we make as journalists, but if anyone with experience in that area has constructive criticism as to how we can be better journalists, we would be more than happy to listen.

(Report Comment)
Joy Mayer February 23, 2012 | 12:45 p.m.

This is such an interesting issue — one being grappled with around the world. Defining "media," much less "journalist," is only going to get trickier.

The journalism industry is certainly in heated debates about it. Here's an interesting post about definitions that addresses a high-profile case involving an Oregon blogger: http://gigaom.com/2011/12/15/defining-jo...

I tend to be very inclusive in what I consider journalism, and I challenge my staff at the Missourian to think broadly about what is important and interesting information, and who should be tasked with sharing it. That's why we're excited about our new From Readers section, in which stories from the community enrich our overall report. I invite you all to contribute: http://www.columbiamissourian.com/p/from...

When it comes to legal definitions, and the responsibilities, rights and privileges attached to them, that's a much bigger issue, of course — one that I expect to play out over a long period.

Joy Mayer,
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
Joy Mayer February 23, 2012 | 12:51 p.m.

I just saw Matthew's last comment, and I'll add one other observation: In my last newsroom, which was (at the time) a New York Times-owned newspaper in Sarasota, Fla., only about half of the people who worked in the newsroom had journalism degrees.

There's no diploma, certificate, union card or membership fee required to participate.

Joy Mayer,
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 23, 2012 | 7:49 p.m.

Joy, sorry for the late reply. Great comments!

This is a very complicated issue, but I love the stance the Missourian is taking; allowing any and everyone willing to contribute, a place to post an articles!

Are video articles acceptable as well?

Either way, I encourage any and everyone to take advantage of this, as I most certainly will!

As for how this whole situation plays out, only time will tell and I hope all those who have the power to do so take such a stand as you have Joy!

(Report Comment)
Joy Mayer February 23, 2012 | 8:34 p.m.

@Matthew, video submissions are absolutely included. In that case, the easiest thing to do would probably be to invite us to embed a YouTube video, and submit along with that a short description of it.

Guidelines for submission are here: http://www.columbiamissourian.com/storie...

I'm going to add a mention about video files. Thanks for asking.

Joy Mayer,
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking February 24, 2012 | 3:15 a.m.

Matthew Akins wrote:

" to a group, who to some, hated and were harassing the police."

I'm not going to rise to that other than to mention it is at the heart of what I would consider a big problem with self-published journalistic work. I don't consider your encounter questionable, and I think it shows that both officers acted professionally. You're trying to paint yourself as a victim here, and you're not.

"DK, your not a journalist so it would be unfair for me to ask for you to point out mistakes we make as journalists"

Actually, in a way I'm a journalist in one of the most exacting ways. Here's why:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=...

When we publish a paper, the editors and reviewers subject it to great scrutiny, and they mainly check to be sure that any conclusions reached are supported by the data presented. As journalists, you have no less a responsibility.

Traditional news organizations build trust through balance and accuracy. They do not give the appearance of publishing news for any other reason than to inform the public. A reporter has a level of review before a story is published, and one of the aspects of that is to make sure the reporter is reporting supported facts and not a personal conviction.

Direct-to-internet publishers have no such review. I would have ben a lot more impressed with your "Questionable..." video if you had sent it to the officers involved for them to comment on its fairness and accuracy prior to releasing it. A fair journalist wants to make sure their work is an accurate depiction of events from everyone's standpoint.

My impression of what you do is that it's much more a crusade, rather than a neutral, fact-finding activity. It's difficult not to point out that every person named in the above picture (watching the videos - the last one in the sidebar) seems to have neen charged or convicted of some sort of crime, and many involve repeated marijuana infractions. How do you keep an anti-police bias out of your work? Is there anyone which would point one out if it existed?

I tend not to hope that citizen journalism is the wave of the future. Traditional news organizations have come under fire for bias, and they should have people trained to recognize it. News should not be entertainment, and journalism should not be biased or self serving. I would encourage you to step back and make sure your work reflects reality, and not emotional involvement.

DK

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 24, 2012 | 8:19 a.m.

MarkF: I think the entirety of your last post is exactly why I do not think of CFJ as journalists. Self-described "victims" make poor journalists, especially when there are no non-victim reviewers to keep the former on the non-biased reservation. This is like a group of 5 wolves and one lamb trying to figure out "What's for supper?."

INO, it's not a professional organization. It shows evidence of a crusade of emotion and personal conviction, not the things I expect from a professional news organization. I expect "news" and editorial opinions from professionals, and that's about it. Anything else is just a preconceived notion.

As for this comment from Matt: "your (sic) not a journalist so it would be unfair for me to ask for you to point out mistakes we make as journalists".....what an odd statement coming from a person striving for journalistic recognition. Only a journalist can judge another journalist? As a journalist, he's somehow "above" it all...a higher one who has been "called"?

I beg to differ, and I'm guessing Joy Meyer would differ also; otherwise, she'd shut this place down and tell us all to shut-up.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 24, 2012 | 8:55 a.m.

Peer review can apply to technical magazine articles as well. The McGraw-Hill publication "Chemical Engineering" (~50 issues per year) is a popular periodical, read by far more than just Chemical Engineers.

The magazine consists mainly of technical articles pertaining to chemistry and Chemical Engineering but it also contains articles concerning situations and problems individual engineers can face.

Even the latter type of article is "peer reviewed" prior to publication. I had articles published years ago, and each was reviewed. Since the articles had to do with an engineer's role and responsibilities in tort litigation, each was reviewed by an attorney. At first I didn't like that, but I realized that the result of the review and any corrections made for a more useful article.

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 24, 2012 | 11:49 a.m.

DK: Officer Hedrick was friendly and professionally, as he was when I spoke to him recently at the Tony Lewis trial. Officer Sanders was friendly, but the point was of the video was to find out whether or not he acted professionally by following and contacting us in the manner he did. Do you know how Chief Burton felt about the incident or that an internal affairs investigation was filed (not by us, but by the department) because of the video?

From the Tribune:
"The activist was involved with a group called Citizens for Justice, which includes profiles of officers and recordings of police responses to incidents on its website. Despite officers’ dislike of Citizens for Justice, (Chief Ken) Burton said, Sanders should have answered the man’s question and not performed the license check.

“In my mind, he knew who they were and was going to play a little ‘turnabout is fair play,’ ” Burton said."

( http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/2011... )

"I would have ben a lot more impressed with your "Questionable..." video if you had sent it to the officers involved for them to comment on its fairness and accuracy prior to releasing it."

What more could we have asked them, besides what was asked in the video? They told us they pulled us over for a safety check and then let us go. Even in his statement to IA(which was leaked via the Canine Fano FB page, there wasn't a whole lot to it; he basically said he followed us because we looked at him and were "talking and gesturing animatedly" and stopped to ask us for ID because he thought we were video taping him(which he says he didn't notice until we were in the parking lot) to discourage him from pulling us over, when in fact we were doing so in case he did.

This IA review, I might add, informed us that they would not need to contact us for a statement because the video showed them everything they needed to know.

Through email, Sgt. Schlude informed us that because there was no ticket or charges involved, they had no record of the incident besides prior emails I had sent. We went to an attorney to answer our questions about the legitimacy of the encounter.

Prince talked primarily about how he was feeling during the incident, while I tried to stick with the facts of what happened(with the possible exception of the last statements I made in the video, which were meant to discourage officers from engaging in similar behavior and impeding on our right to film/report). I couldn't find a better way to report it, being that we were the subjects and the reporters.

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 24, 2012 | 11:52 a.m.

I did not know you wrote articles or I would not have said you're not a journalist. I'm actually glad to hear that and would be interested in reading some of them(I'm having some trouble navigating the link you gave me to lead me to a specific article, rather I'm finding sources and such)

"Direct-to-internet publishers have no such review."

I disagree, both from our standpoint and from that of other "Direct-to-internet" publishers. I'm not saying that every D to I publisher has their articles/stories reviewed by outside people prior to publishing, but we most certainly do.

Being that we are dealing with the legal/criminal justice system, we pretty much HAVE TO have our stories reviewed by an attorney prior to their release, and have others review for other aspects as well.

Like I've said before, because of the subject matter we report on, we have little room for error and that's been made clear by the Columbia Police Officers' Association, who've been having their attorneys send us letters long before pretty much anybody knew we existed.

We keep bias out(and trust me, there are PLENTY of people who contact us because they HATE THE POLICE), by not discriminating against people who want to volunteer based on their criminal record, but analyzing what perspective they have based on those experiences.

IT'S NOT an officer's fault if they have to arrest me for doing something illegal, while follow all necessary protocol. It's just them doing the job, that our tax dollars pay them to do.

IT IS an officer's fault if they abuse their power, the public's trust, and/or fail to abide by THE RULE OF LAW.

We will continue to do our best to be a fact-finding agency, as you, Sgt. Schlude, and others have suggested, but I would hope that traditional media and citizen journalism can find a happy medium as the Missourian seems to be fostering with their From Readers section.

Also, you should begin featuring some of your articles there, DK.

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 24, 2012 | 12:07 p.m.

MW said: As for this comment from Matt: "your (sic) not a journalist so it would be unfair for me to ask for you to point out mistakes we make as journalists".....what an odd statement coming from a person striving for journalistic recognition. Only a journalist can judge another journalist? As a journalist, he's somehow "above" it all...a higher one who has been "called"?

LOL, sorry for the mistake you corrected; these comments AREN'T reviewed by an editor.

My comment was in response to DK's:

"People that do responsible jobs typically have a lot of training under mentors of various sorts, and these mentors make sure (at least they're supposed to) that certain standards of a field are met."

You're welcome to point out things you'd like to see us do different(not that I need to tell you this, lol), but I was specifically speaking about constructive criticism from someone in the same field.

Also, I received an email from Media Coordinator Jim Robertson correcting me on some thing I said in an earlier comment:

"> Matt, in your comments on the Missourian article yesterday, you mention
> I had given or allowed Thom Baker to get footage of the Ferguson trial.
> Not true. Thom apparently went directly to CBS, which was the pool media
> for video. No application from him came to me.
>
>
> Jim"

Sorry about that Jim, but thanks for correcting me.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 24, 2012 | 1:40 p.m.

Matthew: LOL, sorry for the mistake you corrected; these comments AREN'T reviewed by an editor.
_______________

You missed the point. You believe I put the [sic] in your sentence to point out your editorial error. Not so. I put it in there so others would not think I put it there. Big difference.

But it wasn't my main point, which was: Why is it unfair of you to ask Mark to point out mistakes you make as a journalist just because he's not a journalist? THAT'S what is "odd". A professional seeks input from any source.

For some reason I keep thinking "Geraldo Rivera" back in his "Al Capone" sensationalism days. He screwed up his reputation so badly, that when he tried to go respectable, he was permanently ruined. I see similar things here: Pseudo-professionals behaving non-professionally. You're biased, and that's not news.

It's something else entirely.

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 24, 2012 | 2:31 p.m.

MW: If that's why you put the "sic", cool. I think when you started the sentence by saying:

"As for this comment from Matt:", used a sentence I used, DK had already quoted, and put quotes around it, I don't think anybody was going to get confused as to who wrote the sentence, but whatever man.

I think YOU missed the point of my response. I'm not going to spend a lot more time going over things I've already said, but I'll clarify this one to make a little clearer for you.

While criticism from any source is more than welcome and we are happy to listen(even when it is packaged in the form of an insult), DK touched on a very pertinent issue. What is going to help us the most are professional critiques from members of the media field who have more education and experience than us in the specific field we are working in.

You're never too old or set in your ways to learn something new and I always keep that in mind.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 24, 2012 | 2:41 p.m.

While Missourian reporters (Trib, too) do reply at times to our comments, mainly it's only for clarification purposes when we think they did something wrong.

Mainly, though, they don't spend a lot of time on a forum justifying their existence. They spend more time just doing their job....news.

That's called "professionalism".

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 24, 2012 | 3:35 p.m.

The Tribune and the Missourian are traditional media outlets and I rarely, if ever, see you or anyone else challenge their existence.

But that's not the issue here. The issue is that I have taken a lot of time out of my day(s), when I DO have many other things I need to be working on, to answer and respond to your questions and critiques.

In response, you insinuate that I'm unprofessional. WOW!

Anyway, if DK or anybody else whose intent is not to waste my time, has a question, I'd be happy to respond.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 24, 2012 | 4:18 p.m.

Matthew: You're right. I don't challenge the Tribune's or Missourian's existence because they are true journalists.

CFJ, however, is a pseudo-news(?) group with a biased agenda; that bias deserves challenge. Mark did a pretty good job of that and I'm just piling on.

I don't have to insinuate that CFJ is unprofessional; it does that job all by itself.

I just say it out loud.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking February 25, 2012 | 4:05 p.m.

Matthew Akins wrote:

"I'm having some trouble navigating the link you gave me to lead me to a specific article"

Click the link I provided, and click the "Free Full Text" link to the right. That will give you links for the papers that have the full text freely available online (some require a subscription - computers in the MU libraries will have more of the articles available because MU subscribes to a lot of these journals).

Click on the link for the paper, and you'll get an abstract (summary of what the paper is about and the conclusions), Look to the upper right and you'll see links for an HTML version of the paper and a PDF. Either one will let you read the full text of the paper.

It may not mean a lot to you unless you have a significant background in science. If you're curious I can answer any questions.

DK

(Report Comment)
Fedor Zarkhin February 26, 2012 | 5:54 p.m.

Matthew Akins and Michael Williams,

This is a very interesting subject, and it would be fascinating to learn about the opinions of more readers. In the meanwhile, I would really appreciate it if you could share your thoughts on the following questions. I think it could bring some more depth to the discussion you've been having so far.

Michael – what criteria would you use to determine whether an independent news source is credible and trustworthy? Do you distrust Citizens for Justice because its focus is the Columbia Police Department? In what kind of situation would you turn to Citizens for Justice to get information?

Matthew – if it's true that a lot of people don't consider Citizens for Justice a credible news source, what do you think you could do to enhance its credibility? Could you tell us a bit more about what you do to eliminate what could be perceived as bias? During an interview with me, you said it was OK to call you an "activist." Could that term take away from your credibility in the public's eyes? In another interview, you mentioned to me that it's good for a community when a fresh set of people cover people and events. Would you say that it's normal for the majority of people to deem any news source with a non-standard viewpoint as biased? What could you do about that? Finally, what advice would you give to other people who want to be citizen journalists?

Thank you!

Fedor Zarkhin
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 26, 2012 | 6:36 p.m.

Fedor:

(1) What criteria would you use to determine whether an independent news source is credible and trustworthy?

Me: A long history of unbiased reporting. That means "years". I admit to you that I cannot think of one single news source (paper, TV, internet) that I believe can be considered completely trustworthy. Journalists are human, or so they say ;^), and that means they drag baggage from personal lives/thoughts into their work. IMO, the journalists from 40-50 years ago did a MUCH better job of separating their personal lives from their professional ones. Nowadays, we mainly have "gotcha" journalism, which promotes distrust.

(2) Do you distrust Citizens for Justice because its focus is the Columbia Police Department?

Me: In part. I view CFJ as one step-up from a citizen with a cell phone camera, only with more expensive equipment. They have no formal training, no editor, and no guild vetting their professionalism. Many have prior bad histories with the police and their actions speak of a grudge. Every word I read about them, or from them, indicates their sole happiness is a woodie when their video goes viral....ino, gotcha journalism at it's worst.

I would think the same thing if someone followed YOU around with a camera all day, without YOU having the ability to say "cut".

(3) In what kind of situation would you turn to Citizens for Justice to get information?

Me: None. There is no credibility whatsoever. I do not consider CFJ as without bias. Indeed, I believe they have a very high bias. They are not journalists, imo.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 26, 2012 | 6:48 p.m.

Further, Fedor, I think Mark Foecking got it exactly right, in a way I could not articulate, in his post of February 24, 2012, 3:15 a.m. on this thread.

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 27, 2012 | 1:25 a.m.

Fedor,

*"Matthew – if it's true that a lot of people don't consider Citizens for Justice a credible news source, what do you think you could do to enhance its credibility?"

We(Myself and Travis Marshall) had a meeting with Chief Ken Burton and Sgt. Jill Schlude in the Chief's office at the station to discuss the entire situation. Sgt. Schlude suggested that we should have asked for the perspective of the police department about the issues we were having filming before releasing the BCSD vs CPD video. Chief Burton took it a step further by suggesting we should file a formal complaint anytime an officer does something we feel is inappropriate. Doing so would serve two purposes(not necessarily in order):

1: To help the police department correct honest mistakes, as well as catch any intentional misconduct that might be going on.

2: If the officers acted appropriately, it would give the department a chance to explain why they must act in certain manners during certain situations and how, while these actions could be perceived as negative, are not intending to be.

It was established that we could video tape our interactions with the Internal Affairs Unit, so that the public would become more comfortable with and have more faith in the process, and therefore have a higher level of trust in the department as a whole.

Another idea was that we could do a few ride-alongs with the camera, to give the public a better view of what the officers have to deal with on a daily basis and the reasoning and thinking behind actions that, while not exactly pretty when viewed by the public, are sometimes necessary.

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 27, 2012 | 1:30 a.m.

By Michael's standard, wouldn't these stories be biased, being that we're going in with an idea of what we're going to find?

One could say so, but then again, how does a story start? An idea arises or is presented about a situation that is deemed interesting enough to be newsworthy. At that point, the person reporting has an idea of what they're going to find. Does that mean that's exactly what they'll find? Absolutely not, but whatever is found, should be reported accordingly.

While some of our videos are from a certain perspective("Is there misconduct involved here" is a major one), they test out their individual perspectives to the extreme and present any flaws or unanswered questions that become apparent in the process. I can definitely see why people could perceive "Activist Journalism" as another reporter referred to it as, as biased, but I think the title fits.

People come to us with a problem they want looked into and reported on, it could be a citizen, an officer, an attorney, or even the chief, and we analyze the perspective they give us to look from and report accordingly to what we find.

The 5 Stories of Michael Boyd: Reenactments (Ryan Ferguson Case):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHONDPS6H...

Police are welcome to present us with perspectives they want analyzed, and in a few cases have.

I believe that once stories from those perspectives are finished and released, people will begin to understand our purpose/platform a little better and therefore help us eliminate what could be perceived as bias.

If we fail to mention or analyze an aspect of something, maybe it's not because we're trying to paint something a certain light, but because we honestly overlooked something(I know; evidence in MW's favor of better editors, but everybody makes mistakes at one point or another.)

The fresh set of eyes thing was in response to some articles written by other publishers that I happened to have access to the source materials of and could see obvious misrepresentation of the facts. The issue I see is when a journalist seems to feel it would jeopardize their connections/job security if they wrote articles that seem criticize certain people too harshly(whether true or not), because they know they'll have to report on those same people and would risk getting snubbed on future scoops.

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 27, 2012 | 1:31 a.m.

*"Would you say that it's normal for the majority of people to deem any news source with a non-standard viewpoint as biased? What could you do about that?"

At this point in time, there are a lot of "citizen journalists" running around with camera video taping events such as the occupy movement and other protests where police are involved. Some of these people do not show a great level respect or common sense while doing this and it makes it much harder for a group like us to be recognized as legitimate in the eyes of those who attach that type of stigma to us.

All we can do is continue to improve our journalistic skills and set a positive example for others groups that are similar to us.

*"Finally, what advice would you give to other people who want to be citizen journalists?"

Always be ready at a moments' notice to catch something.

http://youtu.be/YSq0QtxtGf0
^^^^This happened out of nowhere and we were a second late trying to capture it(I'm still disappointed to this day about it lol).

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 27, 2012 | 1:53 a.m.

My apologies for the spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors in my lasts posts

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 27, 2012 | 6:31 a.m.

"My apologies for the spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors in my last posts."

Apologies accepted, but you need to be more careful: someone might mistake you for an engineer. :)

On a less humorous situation, your advice about continuing to improve one's skills applies equally well to professions other than journalism. In fact, something similar to that appears in certain codes of ethics and professional behavior. No matter how good we are, individually or collectively, we can always be better.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 27, 2012 | 9:40 a.m.

A journalist, by my definition, cannot be an activist.

And an activist can never be considered a journalist.

For the former, any journalist describing him/herself as an activist is revealing a bias anathema to the job. They are not to be trusted. Such a journalist is simply a different version of the current talking heads selected for their biased views. They are editorialists, not journalists. Big difference. One I depend upon for "just the facts, ma'am". The other, I look for opinions. I can accept bias in opinions, but not in "news".

For the latter, an activist may report events, but they bear no resemblance to a professional journalist. They are generally untrained and unrestrained, plus...because of their activism...their "cause" drives them to make news or support only news that conforms to their own pre-conceived notions. Again, there is a bias not to be trusted.

A journalist may not be an activist.
An activist may not be called a journalist.
One reports events accurately without bias.
The other is biased by definition and biased by their "cause".

Hopefully, the Missourian will never allow themselves to carry water for ANY activist and will hold them at arms length with a healthy dose of skepticism. Failure to do so will simply exacerbate an existing problem independent news services already have with the public....a perception they are not being independent.

That should be a big deal.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz February 27, 2012 | 9:55 a.m.

And how should the Missourian not carry water for an activist? By not reporting on the work that activist does? I find the runaround that KMIZ and to some degree, Jim Robertson, gave to Matthew Akins well worth reporting, especially when the other non-media members that have accessed pool footage in the past is mentioned.

Just about all media outlets have bias in my eyes, especially the big paper in town. It's something I assume going into any newspaper or TV or radio story, as well as local bloggers.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 27, 2012 | 10:23 a.m.

John Schultz asks, "And how should the Missourian not carry water for an activist?"

Me: By being damned careful, going into it with eyes wide open, and knowing when and where there is a bias. Everyone has an agenda, you, me, CFJ, reporters/editors on the Missourian, Fox, MSNBC, Obama, Abraham Lincoln, Ernie Pyle, and maybe Mark Twain.

The only issue is: Is the agenda known? If not, beware. Otherwise, you can be manipulated, especially if your "independent news organization" is already populated by like-minded reporters with poor journalistic ethics who's first thought is "gotcha!".

Of course, the first thing an "independent news organization" has to determine is their definition of "independent". To me, "independent" means "We're not dependent upon anyone else's agenda. We report news and opine on that news with clearly-identified editorials."

Or, the word "independent" can simply be a marketing tool to salve the public, sometimes followed...sometimes not, depending only upon the agenda of the news agency.

News should be more than a career-enhancing "scoop"; it's also supposed to be the unbiased AND unvarnished truth.

My agenda? It should be obvious to all by now that I mistrust reporters and their editors. I have significant reasons for this mistrust based upon (1) 45 years+ of paying attention to news, and (2) my own personal interactions with the media. I have seen an erosion in journalistic ethics.

I want to get that confidence back.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 27, 2012 | 10:42 a.m.

I said, "I want to get that confidence back."

I fear that will not be possible in this age of the internet just-in-time reporting. For local things, I can monitor veracity simply because reporters are reasonably close (my neighbors, if you will), and there are forums like this one to complain/praise. I can call people.

Not with the internet. Any damnphool can publish any damnphool thing they wish on the internet, and I have no way of checking their truth. All I can do is nod in agreement or shake my head in distrust, dependent mainly upon my own preconceived conclusions because I have NO other input.

"News" has changed.

Not for the better, imo.

(Report Comment)
Matthew Akins February 27, 2012 | 11:50 a.m.

MW said: 'The other is biased by definition and biased by their "cause".'

Our cause is educating the public about the legal system; educational media is still media. Sometimes finding, or at least attempting to find, answers to question we or others have presented is worthy of documenting and showing to the public. This is essentially what the History Channel, Discovery Channel, or PBS does on a regular basis(except with more resources, training, and experience).

MW: Do you ever go to any of the meetings hosted by the Bias-Free Coalition? If not, you might want to check them out. I'll let Former-Kansas City Police Department Officer Jack Colwell respond to your comments on bias from a presentation he gave at one of those meetings:

http://youtu.be/EUKJbiCO9AQ

Obviously you are set in your beliefs that we are not now, nor will ever be, up to the standard of integrity necessary to gain your approval.

You are welcome to that opinion, but if your goal is truly to return ethics in journalism to the standards you feel it has eroded from and regain your confidence in the system, diplomacy and understanding will take you much further in doing so.

And if we stress you out so much, why even pay attention to us? We don't force you to watch our videos or read our stories anymore than any other news agency does.

Anyway, I will be posting stories as we complete them in the Missourian's "From Readers" section, so I will look forward to your comments on those. Have a nice day Mr. Williams.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 27, 2012 | 1:51 p.m.

Matthew: Obviously you are set in your beliefs that we are not now, nor will ever be, up to the standard of integrity necessary to gain your approval.

Me: CFJ does not currently have the standard of integrity necessary to gain my approval of your identity as a journalist. Whether you ever will have it is up to you and your behavior. Either be an activist, or be a journalist. I will not accept you as both.
________________________

You: "...why even pay attention to us? We don't force you to watch our videos or read our stories anymore than any other news agency does."

Me: I'm giving my perspective of CFJ on this public forum. I express my own feelings on matters and give others the opportunity to read what I have to say...just like they do for me. What we decide is up to us. There is no reason to even have this forum except for the exchange of ideas and thoughts. Yet, you play the victim and post the playground question, "...why even pay attention to us?" That is not a question a professional organization would even ask out loud.

Here's something else that seems....um....unseemly. You claim to be a journalistic organization, yet here you are on ANOTHER'S journalist forum defending, marketing, and justifying your own organization. The guidelines for this forum include not soliciting or promoting business, and I agree you are technically not doing that. You are, however, trying to sell your legitimacy. I'm wondering if the Missourian would allow similar self-promotions and self-justifications from other non-profit, so-called altruistic organizations such as MADD, League of Women Voters, United Way, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Gentlemen's Clubs, or Barkeaters-Anonymous. This is part of what I meant with my "carrying water for you" question, and I think the Missourian should give a few moments of thought to that.

You want to be considered a journalist? Start by growing a thicker skin. You'll need it regardless of your success, or lack thereof, at selling legitimacy.

You have a nice day, too.

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.

advertisements