DULUTH -- An initial “investigative update” from the Minneapolis Police Department in the immediate aftermath of the murder of George Floyd last year referenced what happened as a “medical incident during (a) police interaction.”
“Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering from medical distress,” the police report stated. “Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”
That now-proven sanitized, incomplete, and inaccurate description not only highlights the problem — “widespread,” according to an Associated Press report Thursday — of inaccurate initial police reports. It demonstrates the critical importance of local journalism and citizen journalism in keeping our communities informed with the reliably accurate information needed to participate in and uphold our democracy.
While it may be true that, “If it wasn’t for this 17-year-old who took the video, Derek Chauvin would in all likelihood still be on the police force” instead of behind bars, as a communications professor said in the AP story, it’s just as importantly true that local journalists are the ones out there every day on our behalf. Our eyes and ears. Our truth-seekers. Our watchdogs on government and others on whom we need to be able to trust and who demand to be held accountable. Local reporters, photographers, and even opinion writers are the ones documenting, recording, asking hard questions, and digging on behalf of the public and the very neighborhoods in which they also live.
The role of journalism, especially local journalism, to ensure an informed populace ensures also that the decisions that affect us all are well-informed and that more of us are able to meaningfully and knowledgeably participate in their public processes.
Of grave concern to our democracy is what’s happening to local journalism, even as rife-with-misinformation and propagated-by-propaganda online sites — please don’t call them “news” — thrive, despite their lack of credibility. Many are free, and you get what you pay for: too often false or incomplete pictures of your world.
Between 2008 and 2019, the number of newspaper newsroom employees in the U.S. plummeted by more than half, from about 71,000 to 35,000, according to a Pew Research report released last year. And the pandemic, with its economic shutdowns and challenges, has led to even more newsroom layoffs and lost positions. That’s more than 35,000 fewer trained observers, committed to fairness and obligated to accuracy, out there on your behalf, keeping a close eye on what school boards, city councils, police departments, and others are doing — or aren’t doing but should be.
It’s an emergency for our democracy, but one that can be fixed with the public’s support, like we used to, of the important work done by and the critical role played by local journalism in our communities. Nominal individual investments are reasonable small prices to pay for the reliable information gathered and presented by our truth-seeking local journalists.
We need to keep them out there, asking the hard questions and preventing sanitized, incomplete, and inaccurate descriptions that never well-serve the public or our communities.