Over the past month, the events taking place in Ferguson have become a significant catalyst for rising tensions between the public and the media. With the emotional responses that issues of racism trigger across the political spectrum coupled with the response to police brutality that we’re already so familiar with, there’s an unsettling amount of conflict for the journalists and photographers involved.
Just recently, that crossfire hit 30-year-old freelance photographer Leo York, who was present in Ferguson during the riots. An Al Jazeera writer posted an article discussing his contempt for the media’s reaction to the events, and mentioned how an unnamed reporter asked him if he could take a picture of him and Anderson Cooper. That same reporter also mentioned how he was there for the “networking opportunities”.
“One reporter who, last night, said he came to Ferguson as a ‘networking opportunity.’ He later asked me to take a picture of him with Anderson Cooper.”
– From Ryan Schuessler’s original article on Al Jazeera
After the post went viral, grabbing attention from multiple online blogs, Gawker reporter J.K. Trotter posted an article asking readers to find out who the people being referred to in the post were since the Al Jazeera writer, Ryan Schuessler, wouldn’t give out any names. Eventually, a few readers managed to deliver on the request, finding pictures of Leo York posing with Anderson Cooper on the former’s personal Twitter account.
“Schuessler won’t name the networks or the reporter. But we will. If you know who Schuessler’s talking about, hop in below or send us an email.”
– From J.K. Trotter’s post on Gawker
What followed was the predictable outrage against him. With Twitter/Facebook posts by York such as “Too much media. I think we are becoming part of the problem in maintaining order. #Ferguson #LeoYork”, and “If you aren’t marketing yourself to reach your dreams, you are probably unsuccessful”, the photographer’s online presence ignited both anger and defense. Many people, allegedly from the photographer’s home town, have even been claiming that his self-advertising is something he’s locally known for.
Despite what might hold up for or against him, the Al Jazeera reporter later tweeted that York was not the reporter that approached him that day in Ferguson.
Please don't let my blog post be the only thing you read about #Ferguson today.
— Ryan Schuessler (@RyanSchuessler1) August 21, 2014
York further expressed his agreement with the Schussler in an interview with The Mirror:
“I hate being in the spotlight. It’s awful, man. People turn into monsters when you get successful. They want to slit your throat. You get used to it. You don’t care. … I don’t understand how people can be such losers that they can go and make something up.”
The Mirror reached out to Trotter for his response, as well:
“After my initial story went up, we were contacted by several individual sources who claimed, in most cases with corroborating evidence, that the person treating the Ferguson protests as a networking opportunity was Leo York. (A total of ten people, many of whom were journalists themselves, contacted us over the next day or so. All of them identified York as the networker.) As you can see in the updates in the comments, this claim is properly attributed to those sources.”
“As far as I can tell, the one part of this claim that York (and Schuessler) took issue with was the part about York asking Schuessler to take his picture with Anderson Cooper. As with the other updates, I added this to the comments below. But to be clear, neither York nor Schuessler denied that the latter was referring to the former—or that York treated the Ferguson protests as a “networking opportunity” in general—when asked about it.”
York claims when he approached the Gawker writer in private afterwards, asking him to take the post down, Trotter responded with “LOL”.
There’s a lot that can be said for or against either side in the conflict, but there are a few things I don’t think can be argued against. The first is that the Gawker reporter was acting completely out of line by even asking readers to find names, which is an action typically referred to as “witch-hunting”. With how anonymous people become behind a computer screen on the internet, with numerous occasions of actual death threats sent being sent to almost anyone gaining attention for doing something that others don’t necessarily like, and with how sensitive the issues raised by the events in Ferguson already are, inciting a witch hunt like that online is asking for something bad to happen. The second is that being a photographer or freelance reporter at all today is a job that needs to be approached more carefully. If there’s a heavily controversial story taking place, press need to remember that what they say and how they present themselves matter, and how they act can affect even their safety. This isn’t the only time something like this has occurred for a journalist, and it won’t be the last.
[Via The Daily Caller]