Jena reporting – sound and fury signifying…what?

Raquel Christie’s article in the latest American Journalism Review is a thorough analysis and critique of media coverage of the Jena 6 controversy which S&R has done its own thorough job of ranting about. Her conclusions, based on interviews with reporters and bloggers involved are relatively straightforward:

1) Local media slanted its coverage to make the Jena story as much about unfair reporting by the national media – thereby misleading casual observers of the Jena events that the story was about “more of the same” injustice in a stereotypically racist Southern small town.

2) National media pursued its usual “celebrity driven” line and only really went into the Jena story once national figures like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton associated themselves with it.

3) National media relied too much on using information provided to them by sources with agendas (including blogs such as this one).

4) Local media spent far too much time reporting about what “good folks” the citizens of Jena/LaSalle Parish/Louisiana are – sometimes to the point of ignoring some of their more questionable actions.

This seeming disconnect between views is well expressed in this observation by the dean of faculty at the Poynter Institute:

The most profound realization coming out of those two conversations was how utterly differently two people could see the same story,” Woods says. “To essentially paint it as the participants did, in the case of Paul [Carty of the Alexandria, LA, Town Talk], a story about overblown and incorrect media coverage, as much as it was about Jena, and to Shawn [Williams of the blog Dallas South], it was a story about injustice. – Keith Woods, Poynter Institute

Meanwhile, the young men known as the Jena 6 continue to struggle with moving forward with their lives and putting the Jena incident behind them.

That’s the thing about the sound and fury of reporting a case like that of the Jena 6. To some, like the national media, it means almost nothing. To others, like the kids involved, it means almost everything.

3 replies »

  1. I’m still pretty proud of how far out in front you were on the Jena story, and while I’m sure the ultimate truth of the case probably lies somewhere between Selma and Birth of a Nation, I remain awfully damned skeptical about “justice” in a town where the DA calls all the white folks into the courthouse to talk about how much Jesus is behind them.

    If that were the only thing I knew about the case, it would be enough.

  2. The AJR link is excellent.

    “Bean knew the media would bite. They did in 1999, when he told them about incidents in his hometown of Tulia, Texas. He exposed a corrupt cop and helped overturn more than a dozen drug convictions against minorities. Tulia was quickly labeled a racist town.

    “I knew that it was probably the kind of case the media could be talked into covering because it had so many spectacular features: The fire – something that was terribly significant that nobody was picking up – the nooses and the racial tension. I thought that if the story was framed properly and people could see the connective tissue they could see how one thing led to another,” Bean says.

    While he is critical of the coverage, Whitlock doesn’t cast Bean as the villain. “I’m not saying it’s Bean’s fault – that’s unfair to him. If there’s any bad guys in the Jena 6 story it’s the media. We blew this.” ”

    …and I was particularly drawn to the above quote.

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