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Mini Law School: The Media and the Law

It’s harder to decide some days who is more vilified:  the police or the press? William Freivogel is a professor at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale School of Journalism and a professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. He also is a contributor to St. Louis Public Radio and publisher of the Gateway Journalism Review. He was formerly with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch where he was a member of the newspaper’s Washington, D.C. bureau and later the deputy editorial page editor.

Dr. Freivogel fields comments and questions about how the press handles sensitive legal stories — where again the Michael Brown shooting case in Ferguson often takes the lead — and the ethics that go along with decisions on those stories and the public trust. He explains how he meticulously went through the Department of Justice report issued on the Michael Brown shooting, and that journalists are often challenged with culling the facts from public opinion — deciding what’s a lie, and then reporting the truth. He shows and talks about where several news outlets, local and national, fueled the sensationalism, or, as he put it, “fuzzed” the facts.

Attendees at this forum asked for more accuracy, more fact checking, and Freivogel agrees. He says cuts to news staff, and more pressure to “get the story first” have contributed to mistakes, but asserts that the majority of news outlets are genuine in trying to present the news fairly and truthfully.

He also points out the difference between “advocacy news” and objective news sources noting that the Michael Brown coverage relied heavily on social media and “citizen journalists” more than ever before, often blurring the line even further between fact and opinion, presenting “news” that was anything but objective.

Regarding the Michael Brown coverage, he says, “It would be nice if we could rewind the movie,” but also says reporters must often rely on eye witnesses, as that’s the most reliable information they can get until physical facts from the authorities become available.

Listen to the conversation play out on the tricky line between public trust, news reporting, creating a reputation for reliability in news, and learning how to be an informed news consumer who can spot bad reporting.

Listen to the podcast here:

Missouri Bar Mini Law School: The Media and the Law – Part 1 [Download]

Missouri Bar Mini Law School: The Media and the Law – Part 2 [Download]


Each lecture and podcast is provided in two, 1-hour segments for easy downloading and listening. Stay tuned as the entire Spring 2015 six-week lecture series are posted as podcasts here on the MissouriLawyersHelp.org/blog. Next week: Unconscious Bias and Its Impact on the Law. 

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