St. Louis Post-Dispatch panel shares thoughts of their Ferguson coverage at Media Now STL

Tracy Luke, Adviser

Dateline: August 9, 2014, is a day that will be long remembered in Ferguson, MO. Fast forward 316 days and St. Louis Post Dispatch photographers, video editors, social media managers, editors and reporters continue to try to process what happened and how it was covered for the city, the state and the nation that day.

“I can still remember the feel of the tear gas,” said Steve Giegerich, general assignment reporter, who covered the events in West Florissant from Aug. 9 for weeks. He happened to be at the St. Louis Symphony when protesters disrupted the performance.

For six members of the Post-Dispatch, the 316 days since the incident began has been time to reflect on its impact.  Members addressed more than 250 student journalists attending the Media Now STL (@MediaNowSTL) workshop at Maryville University Sunday afternoon.

Director Aaron Manfull ran the panel discussion and began with a slide show that photographer Robert Cohen created to illustrate the breadth and depth of coverage the newspaper and its entities had used to cover Ferguson.

Three major points came across from the speakers regardless of their positions on the staff: The news was so fluid that covering it in real time was the only option and that real time changes very quickly; that events were incredibly social-media driven and that it was equally as important not to rush to hit “send”, but wait a minute, verify, and “cover what’s in front of me,” said Giegerich.

Beth O’Malley, reader engagement editor, was in charge of sorting through all of the incoming tweets for the Post-Dispatch Twitter feed during the days and weeks of Ferguson. She said that she had to “sit on her hands” before immediately tweeting out information and had to determine who and what was reliable.  “It’s amazing how quickly misinformation spreads.”

Cohen shot what many consider the photo that epitomized the riots of Ferguson. But, when his photo went viral, he quickly learned the impact of social media. His followers went from 400 to 9000 in one day when that photo was posted. He addressed the thirst for immediate news and how he learned that lesson and that of the power of social media in the days he covered the events.

One lesson he reiterated to the student journalists was “when in doubt, wait a minute before you hit ‘send’.”