I’ve been asked why the Missourian didn’t do its own article on Monday about a confrontation between an MU student photojournalist and some misguided protesters.
The answer’s simple: It wasn’t the most important story of the day. Not close. Minority students and graduate students and faculty and staff took to the south quad in protest. A university system president and a university chancellor resigned. A committed young man ended a seven-day hunger strike. Eleven men and women, identified together in the singular condition “Concerned Student 1950,” made a big imprint in the history of our state land grant institution.
The University of Missouri took a lurching step forward. To where? No one is quite certain.
Tuesday morning, social media was lit up, mostly with outrage, mostly pointed at two university employees who bullied journalists, particularly student journalists such as photographer Tim Tai.
Tai was on assignment for ESPN. Angry people who didn’t want him taking pictures accosted him. Mark Schierbecker filmed the whole thing. The video went viral.
If you haven’t seen it, the synopsis: With protesters linked arm and arm Monday, a circle formed around the tent city that has been a home base since Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike began. The circle pushed outward against the throng of reporters and photographers there to record this historic day. Tai knew he had a right to be in that public space. He stood his ground, even after he was pushed and verbally attacked.
Make no mistake: I was incensed when I saw the video. I'm still having trouble with it. Most of the journalism tribe around the country is angry, too.
It wasn’t the most important story Tuesday. But it was just the story with the most juice.
Before I go further, let me say:
• Tai did just about everything right. He was firm but polite. He explained his position. He didn’t lose his cool. I could imagine a whole bunch of veteran journalists who couldn’t have done what he did.
• Your right to protest ends when you put your hands on somebody else. Period.
• Journalists, and especially student journalists, had every right to be there.
• Tim has been a Missourian photographer *. He will be a Missourian reporter. In other words, he’s my student, even though I don’t teach a class in photojournalism. We’re protective of our students.
Tim the student has become the teacher over the past couple of days.
Hopefully, he taught a few older people who should know better how to conduct yourself in a civil manner.
He’s still trying to teach others where the lens should be focused.
“I’m a little perturbed at being part of the story, so maybe let’s focus some more reporting on systemic racism in higher ed institutions,” he tweeted Monday night. He told me he wished he could talk with more protesters about the things that are bothering them about the media.
Instead, people are shouting at each other.
It makes for an easy narrative. Us vs. them. One side battling another. Villains and victims.
Easy, and not very helpful.
The Missourian didn’t do a story Monday night. On Tuesday, a report was needed. There were too many angry people to ignore.
One of the university employees in the video, assistant professor Melissa Click, was about to have her courtesy appointment at the School of Journalism pulled. Her home, the Communications Department in the School of Arts and Sciences, wasn’t real happy, either.
Tuesday morning, Concerned Student 1950 opened its arms to journalists, even passing out fliers preaching the lesson of inclusiveness. Tuesday night, Click apologized for her actions.
By 6 p.m., nothing had been heard from MU Greek Life and Leadership Assistant Director Janna Basler, the employee in the video seen pushing and berating Tim Tai. (Later, after this first published, she issued an apology).
The Missourian covered the details as they emerged.
It was important.