News Columns & Blogs

Professional journalists try to stay out of the news they cover

It's hard enough to cover the news objectively when gangs of masked thugs smash their way through our city with no other purpose than to terrorize and vandalize. It's even harder when one of our own journalists becomes part of the story.

Professional reporters and photojournalists try to stay out of the news they cover. As trained observers, The Olympian’s news team records events accurately for our readers who weren’t there.

But sometimes journalists get drawn into the story they’re covering against their will, simply because they are present. That was the case recently in our own city when a group calling itself “anarchists” rumbled across the Fourth Avenue bridge, committing acts of violence and destruction as they entered downtown.

Several members of the riotous mob physically assaulted our photographer, threatened his life and spray painted his face and some expensive camera equipment. Why? Because he was there, doing his job, documenting people exercising their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble — except that they became decisively un-peaceful, a truth our photojournalist could reveal.

Our photojournalists do this all the time. We’ve covered perhaps 20 protest marches and rallies already in 2010, most of them at the state Capitol by groups supporting or opposed to the Legislature’s latest budget proposals. None of those protests presents much personal risk for our journalists. Protest groups seldom attack the press, and for good reason: It’s the publicity that they really want.

Other marches, like the gang that took to the streets on April 8, pose a greater risk that our journalists accept because it’s our mission to report the news. On a larger scale, journalists are taking similar risks, albeit more extreme, every day in Iraq and Iran and China. Already this year, five journalists have been killed; 803 have died since 1992. Right this moment, there are 35 journalists imprisoned in Iran, just slightly more than are being held in China.

The kidnapping and beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 by a Pakistani militant group is a high-profile example of violence against the press that has become, sadly, a common occurrence.

It happens when people want to stop us from reporting the truth. Individuals and even governments sometimes go to extreme lengths to suppress the truth, such as wearing masks and assaulting a photojournalist.

In deciding how to report on the protest and subsequent arrest of 31 people, we had several internal discussions to make sure that our reporting wasn’t influenced because our photojournalist had become a victim. It’s important for readers to know that The Olympian dedicates itself to fair and balanced coverage, even when we’re under attack.

ET CETERA

Downtown Olympia is being cleaned up today by members and volunteers of the Olympia Downtown Association. The coolest part of the event is the repainting of the historic slogan “See America By Bus — The Modern Travel Way” on the side of the Greyhound bus depot. The Thurston County Historical Society gave the Art Deco Society NW a grant to bring the classic old sign back to life. ... The Thurston County Chamber Foundation has graduated more than 375 informed and skilled community leaders through its “Step Up, Leadership Thurston County” program. Todd Monoho

 • leads the Foundation board that has offered the 10-month program since 1992. They are taking applications right now for the class of 2011. The class of 2010 will graduate on June 9. ... Lace up your hiking boots for the Thurston March of Dimes’ “March for Babies” on April 24. The route begins at Olympia High School, goes along Capitol Lake, through downtown and through the state Capitol Campus. You’ll be helping to raise funds for the needs of moms and babies in Thurston County.

George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, can be reached at 360-357-0206 or at glemasurier@theolympian.com.

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