Thursday night, two Daily Beacon reporters were threatened — for doing their job.
A reporter and photographer were covering the reactions of a losing SGA campaign when the altercation occurred. A man, not affiliated with the campaign, approached our photographer and told him to stop taking photos. When our photographer informed him that he was with the press and therefore had the right to continue taking photos, the man opened an umbrella in front of our photographer's camera, effectively blocking the lens.
Our reporter then approached to try to resolve the situation, again telling the man that they are part of the press. However, the man proceeded to make them stand quietly beside him, still with the umbrella open, and wait until the candidates finished talking. Once the candidates finished their speeches, the man put his arms around our photographer and reporter and said, “You guys can go talk to them, but if they don't want you to go and talk to them any longer, you're going to see me. And you don't want to see me,” which was recorded by our reporter.
As the campus newspaper, our job is to cover events that affect the University of Tennessee, and SGA elections are one of those events.
They were sent to cover something that should have been a basic, safe event for our staff, but instead they were made so uncomfortable they could not conduct the interviews they needed or take the photos that would have more accurately reflected the night.
While this is the most extreme case of student journalists being bullied that our paper has faced this year, it is not a unique situation. Student journalists are typically not taken as seriously as their professional counterparts, and this unfortunate event likely would not have occurred if the reporters were representing a larger media outlet like Knoxville News Sentinel or Knox Mercury.
When Daily Beacon reporters are acting as journalists, they are more than just students attending an event. They are there to report the news, and they expect to do so in a safe environment. It is absolutely unacceptable that they be threatened for doing their job.
A similar event occurred at the University of Missouri in November 2015, when an assistant communications professor helped block media from covering student protests. A video showed the professor calling out for “muscle” to help remove a student journalists from the area, quickly sparking a conversation over first amendment rights on campus for protesters and press.
After the event, the dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, David Kurpius, announced the professor's resignation.
“Intimidation is never an acceptable form of communications,” he said.
While this is an extreme case, and we understand that these two occurrences are different in many ways, the core issue of each was that the first amendment was violated for these student journalists.
In the past few weeks, our campus saw multiple controversial topics and protests, and yet these people were allowed to speak their minds freely on our campus without fear of harm or hostility. Our student journalists were not granted that same basic right while they were doing their jobs in a public space where they were expected and invited.
What we ask, as UT students and Daily Beacon reporters, is for you to let us tell your story, even when that story is not pleasant. That is our job, and we are blocked from this by the campus community far more than we talk about.
Sit down with us, talk to us and let us take an honest photo.
We would rather have your side of the story than misrepresent you or report that you declined to comment. We are a platform for you, as students, as faculty and as staff. We do not dictate the news; we simply report it.
This has been an issue we have failed to address for far too long. As the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor of this paper, we shouldn't be scared to send our reporters to something as simple as an SGA election event. We ask for cooperation, transparency and trust when we do our jobs — just as you expect from us.