I called Columbia, Mo., my home for a year. The University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou, MU) was my beat when I worked for the Columbia Tribune.
I?d go to Coffee Zone on 9th St., for my turtle latte for an afternoon work break and to McNally?s afterwards for a pint with my friends and fellow writers.
To say I?ve been following the unfolding events at Mizzou would be an understatement. And as you can imagine, I?ve had some mixed emotions about the whole thing. I?ve been bummed that I wasn?t in the middle of Carnahan Quadrangle, with my fellow reporters, covering the protest. I was saddened with the university?s sluggish response to racist incidents and students? frustrations ? here I?m refering to earlier in the year when graduate student?s health care benefits and tuition waivers were planned to be cut. I was proud that this movement has shown the world that a new Apple iPhone isn?t the only thing my generation is willing to assemble for. But I was also upset with interactions between the media and protesters.
If you?ve been paying at least a little bit of attention to the news, you?ve probably seen a clip of Mizzou journalism student, Tim Tai, and his confrontation with Melissa Click, a member of the College of Arts and Sciences, who had a courtesy appointment with the School of Journalism, which she later resigned; and Janna Basler, the director of Greek Life, who is currently on administrative leave.
In the video, Tai, who had a freelance gig with ESPN, is attempting to take pictures of the tent campus, which was set up in the middle of Carnahan Quadrangle and the wall of people that formed around the Quad to give the student activists, including hunger striker Jonathan Butler, a safe space.
I don?t have an issue with students, staff and faculty trying to protect the students within the Quad, that?s their right. My issue came when protesters became hostile with Tai, telling him he did not have a right to be there documenting the unfolding events. There were several moments where Tai was physically pushed back and threatened to be physically removed.
I applaud Tai for keeping his cool and reiterating time and time again, that not only is it his job to be there, but it?s his right.
The first amendment is one sentence, which gives us, as citizens, a multitude of rights. It?s an amazing piece of law.
?Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.?
As the protesters were exercising their right to assemble, petition their grievances with the university?s government and administration, and use their freedom of speech, it also gave Tai, and the multitude of reporters the right to be there, covering the action.
The media gets a bad rap. And yes, sometimes it is all too well deserved. In this 24-hour news cycle we?ve found ourselves in, we?ve lost the time and drive to double check facts before putting it out there. Look at the immediate reports of Click, she was described as being a journalism professor. A little bit of research would have shown she just had a courtesy title, and as Columbia?s KBIA reported, she?s never taught a journalism course at the school.
And in a place like Columbia, with a world-renowned school for journalism - I mean, there?s such a thing as the Missouri Method - I?d be quick to bet that outside of Washington D.C., Columbia has the highest number of reporters per capita.
But besides the media having the right to be there, covering the protests, without a national spotlight, would University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe have stepped down at this point? I don?t know. Maybe, maybe not.
I think sometimes we forget about the media?s purpose as the fourth-estate. Democracy has three branches - three estates. A reporter?s purpose is to inform the public, be a watchdog of governmental action, hence the nickname of the fourth-estate.
Journalist, first with the Maneater, the college?s paper; the Missourian, the paper published by students and faculty from the School of Journalism; and the Columbia Tribune, the city?s paper, as well as local TV stations; all the way to national organizations informed the public of student?s unrest, their fears and grievances with administration, and through a combined effort of the two entities, protesters and media reporting their actions, the world became informed and change was made.
I hope after such turmoil, and I?m not talking about the past few weeks, the university can unite and become One Mizzou.
I was pleased to hear that Dr. Mike Middleton has been named the interim president of the University of Missouri System. I?d had the pleasure of interviewing Middleton a few times during my tenure in Columbia and always thought he was a pleasant and very intelligent man. I wish him well during this difficult and crucial time for the UM System and State of Missouri.
And I hope Wolfe was right, that his resignation can be used as a catalyst for the university to communicate and heal.