Shine the light on the story, not yourself
I consider myself an aggressive reporter. When at the scene of a fire or riot, if I don't get yelled at by police, then I'm doing something wrong. But whether covering a chaotic outdoor disturbance or a boring indoor zoning board hearing, I always try to stay out of the way.
When using public documents to uncover truths for a story, I try to let the documents speak for themselves. The hard part is knowing such documents exist and who it is you need to hit with a public documents request.
The events unfolding in Ferguson are -- as Commander Spock would say -- "fascinating". For many reasons.
As usual, folks are quick to jump to conclusions based on their built up biases. I'm a BIG fan of public safety (admitting my bias for those of you who may be first timers to this blog) but an even bigger fan of journalism.
I will, however, never suppress or ignore the truth to protect either of them.
There's no question Ferguson police could use a refresher course on respecting constitutional rights, and just plain old public relations. The images of Darth Vader like squads of police armed for Armageddon is not the kind of thing you want presented on the nightly news ... or even that newfangled thing, the Internet.
Reporters want to report, it's kinda their job. And it's really hard to do that when police keep you corralled up far from the scene of the action.
Police, conversely, want to quell the very action reporters need to report, and it can sometimes be difficult to do when reporters get in the way. Or worse, their presence serves to incite an already amped-up crowd.
UMPD firing pellets into the crowd (burning sugar) 10/31/13
At all the disturbances I've covered involving rowdy students both on and off the UMass campus, I have never yet seen a TV news camera not cause a volatile reaction from the crowd. And yes, when police don their riot gear, that too incites the crowd.
So what we now have in Ferguson is the worst combination of the two.
If police had been more forthcoming with the facts from the very beginning, the cycle of violence would never have gotten out of hand. Mainstream media also took too long to awaken to the story, but now it's become a circus where reporters outnumber protesters.
"Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." Perhaps why all the mayhem seems to occur after dark.