Unless you’re carrying out a Robinson Crusoe existence, you know that the war has come home. For over a week now, images and video coming from Ferguson, Missouri have dominated front pages and evening news top stories. Since the killing of Mike Brown by a police officer, protestors have been clashing with law enforcement nightly. Military vehicles have been patrolling the streets, buildings have been looted and burned, and noxious plumes of tear gas are emanating from seemingly every corner of this city of 21,000. This is not occurring in Baghdad, Tripoli or Donetsk—this is occurring on American streets. The coverage has been wall-to-wall and the footage harrowing.
But that was not the case at the outset. With an influx of major news stories such as the renewed U.S. involvement in military and humanitarian roles in Iraq and the deaths of Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall, the reports from Ferguson were relegated to the second page coverage of the violent aspects of the protests, or nonexistent altogether.
That all changed last Wednesday night following the arrest of Huffington Post and Washington Post journalists Ryan Reilly and Wesley Lowery, who were cuffed and jailed for the crime of failing to leave a McDonalds quick enough. Individuals on the ground, however, had been covering the developing situation since the protests began. Social media and streaming sites such as Ustream have highlighted the power of citizen-journalism with the people on the scene using their smartphones and tablets to document the events unfolding.
Hashtags such as ‘#Ferguson’ are providing information as it comes in on Twitter, and the social media coverage and ordinary citizens filming the protests secured the mainstream media’s attention, leading to the Ferguson, Missouri situation now dominating the news cycle. However, most major news outlets have been remaining behind the ‘designated press area’ (First Amendment?); but the people on the ground on the ground streaming from their mobile devices are not beholden to such restrictions.
The power of social media was demonstrated during the Arab Spring protests, serving as a medium for organizing meet-ups to releasing information being censored by the government. It’s a sad state of affairs that this method of communication has become the most reliable news source in the United States, because freedom of the press is one of the pillars of our country. I have immense respect for the citizens in the streets forgoing their personal safety for the sake of bringing the story to the forefront, and I can only hope that this situation is resolved as quickly as possible.