November 06, 2014

St. Louis American takes a strong stand on Ferguson

When The Washington Post wanted local perspective on the publication of leaked reports from the autopsy of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., they turned to community newspaper editor Chris King.

King is managing editor of The St. Louis American, the largest weekly newspaper in Missouri and one of the best African-American newspapers in the U.S. Over the last two weeks, he has been an outspoken critic of the Post and The New York Times, both of which published the autopsy leaks in late October. The leaks seem to suggest that Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Brown in August, will not face criminal charges. The protests and riots touched off by Brown’s shooting have received international media attention.

King told the Los Angeles Times a law enforcement source had offered him the autopsy reports, but he decided not to run them. In the Post article, King was quoted as saying he suspected the publication of the leaks could touch off more violence on the streets of Ferguson, an idea that was echoed in an American editorial the same week. That editorial read, in part:

The Times and Post ran with this anonymous third-party hearsay regarding a high-stakes case that has our entire region on edge. Tensions are so high that preparations for riots, if Wilson walks free, are discussed in sober terms in local and national media and on street corners. The editors of these powerful publications have shown a lapse in judgment and ethics that is not only shameful, but actually dangerous.

This week the American covered  protesters upset with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s publication of the leaked autopsy details.

Aggressive reporting and public commentary on matters such as the leaked autopsy reports are nothing new for the American. The newspaper has provided pointed, comprehensive coverage of the social unrest in Ferguson, Mo., since Brown’s shooting.

Other news organizations have taken note of that coverage. In August, King was featured in stories published by Poynter and The New Yorker. The International Society ofWeekly Newspapers announced last week that King and other American staffers will discuss their approach to the story during the 2015 ISWNE conference in Columbia, Mo.  In the last month, King has developed into a go-to source for Washington Post reporters covering Ferguson.

If you haven’t already done so, visit the American’s website and read what the newspaper's staff and contributors have to say. The editorials and columns show us how a local newspaper can take a strong stand for its community and provide a platform for people whose voices often aren’t heard.

Addressing riots in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the newspaper’s editorial board encouraged  the community “to channel its anger more productively than what transpired on the streets.” The newspaper called for prosecutor Bob McCulloch to recuse himself from the investigation into whether Wilson should face criminal charges. In the same editorial, the newspaper accused Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon of “political cowardice” for not forcing McCulloch to step aside.

More recently, editorials (such as this one and this one) encouraged residents to take on broader social systems that reinforce racial inequality.  The newspaper has also opened its pages to guest columnists who have critiqued the handling of Brown’s shooting at the local level and discussed broader social issues it reflects.

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