NABJ Offers Guidance on Coverage of the Tyre Nichols Murder Footage


Posted by kstewart

January 27, 2023 12:40 pm

Today, and this weekend, the news cycle will be traumatic. As his family, Memphis citizens, the Black community, and the nation continue to cope with the tragic murder of Tyre Nichols, footage of the horrific death is expected to be released soon.

NABJ extends its deepest condolences to Tyre’s family and all who knew and loved him. We pray for their comfort as they will have to relive that horrendous moment once the footage is made available.

Learning more about what happened to Tyre during the senseless beating by five Black police officers will be painful. It will be painful not just for all those watching, reading and listening to the details of the tragic murder at the hands of police, but also for the Black reporters, editors, producers, photographers, videographers, community managers, etc., covering the story.

They will have to deal with being triggered by past traumatic experiences and stories about police violence while balancing their calling to seek the truth and report it. All while knowing that Tyre could have been their spouse/partner, sibling, child, cousin, or best friend. They will have to stand tall and hold back tears and frustrations in a moment when the world is depending on them to help them understand how these senseless acts of violence continue to happen between police and Black citizens.

RowVaughn Wells, mother of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police officers, cries as she is comforted by Tyre’s stepfather Rodney Wells, at a news conference with civil rights Attorney Ben Crump in Memphis, Tenn., Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

A Call for Thoughtful and Responsible Journalism

What will matter most during this news cycle is accuracy, responsibility, sensitivity, fairness, and support. News executives and managers must ensure that the reporting produced under their leadership follows the pillars of journalism and unapologetically tells Tyre’s story through a careful lens of the Black community. They must make it a priority to be intuitive about what is seen, heard and read by their audiences. And they must immediately activate and sustain resources to help ensure that the mental health of their staff is properly considered and cared for.

Experiencing trauma after trauma takes its toll on any person. While journalists are coping with trauma as a citizen, they are expected to stay faithful to their duty to accurately report on it, holding back, as much as possible, the same human emotions their audience is feeling. We implore newsroom leaders to recognize that their Black staff members are more than just journalists and creators in this moment. Give them space to grieve, breathe and express themselves during such a devastating time.

Managers should ensure that news staff can take a moment when they need it and are not left with the sole burden of being a voice for the Black community and local community. Put together a team, bring in experts and involve local citizens to help tell the story with balance, depth, and perspective.

Be mindful of how the footage, images and audio are used. Ensure when they are used it adds value to the story, is not used out of context, and is not creating unnecessary trauma for the audience and reporter. Be careful not to spread misinformation by requiring fact-checking and not allowing the reporting of hearsay.

A Call for Safety and Support 

As reports come in that law enforcement units across the nation are bracing for unrest and outcry related to the release of the footage, we urge news companies to ensure their staff is safe while in the field, have legal support, security, a buddy system, and know their rights as members of the press. Newsrooms must remember that Black reporters may not only face the normal challenges of navigating what is happening on the streets but also battle with fear that because of their race, they may be harassed, even arrested, by law enforcement while simply doing their jobs (just as we have seen in the past).

We extend our support to Black journalists, and all journalists worldwide, who are telling Tyre’s story with great courage and conviction. We encourage our members and colleagues to take advantage of the mental health resources we have available on our YouTube channel here. Remember to be proactive in requesting and utilizing resources from your companies and health plans. Be watchful and safe on the field.

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