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WCPO's journalists are working hard to cover protests over George Floyd's death

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Posted at 3:18 PM, Jun 01, 2020
and last updated 2023-01-31 14:33:21-05

This story was posted in 2020 by then Senior Director of Local Content Mike Canan. Canan is now the Director of the Journalism Fund at the Scripps Howard Foundation.


As I have watched the protests and police response unfold in our city over the last three days, that has been the word that has stuck in my head.

Courage as law enforcement officers face down a sea of angry people. One officer was shot — and thankfully uninjured — in his ballistic helmet.

Courage as protesters stare right back, as they stand up to make their voices heard in the face of pepper balls, flash bangs and riot gear.

But also courage from our team of journalists, out there in the streets putting themselves at risk to make sure you are informed and this moment in history is documented.

And by the way, this isn’t just a risk of physical danger. There’s also the ever-present, looming threat of COVID-19.

In the last three days, protesters have screamed at our journalists. One of our managers, Meghan Goth, told me a woman screamed and threatened her just inches from her face. Photographer Eric Clajus had a protester dump water on him. Police threatened to arrest one of our journalists who was trying to report as officers handcuffed a man on the ground.

A flash bang went off steps from reporter Kristen Swilley’s feet, and moments later, she had to squeeze to the side to avoid a wall of riot police sweeping up the street.

Farther from Cincinnati, my friend Lucas Sullivan, a reporter who works at The Columbus Dispatch, was pepper-sprayed three times on Saturday while doing his job.

Yet journalists stand and report to bring you the story.

At one point on Sunday, a protester told police: “You’re doing your job, and we are doing ours.”

So are the reporters and photographers out there.

As I have thought about that moment, it has stuck with me how journalists — especially those here at WCPO 9 News because those are the ones I know best — are literally and figuratively in the middle.

We face risk from both protesters and police.

At the same time, the middle is where we have to be. We need to be out there reporting.

But we also need to be showing both sides. We need to accurately and fairly reflect what is happening in our community.

That’s why we have worked hard to stick to the facts and avoid mislabeling what is happening.

Online and on TV, our anchors and reporters have mostly stuck to the facts and avoided speculation, sensationalism and hyperbole. Are we perfect? Of course not. We’re human and in many cases we are talking about live, unscripted TV. At one point on Friday night, anchor Evan Millward was on TV for about four straight hours. That’s a long time.

We may not be perfect, but we are doing the best we can to focus on simply describing what is happening.

We have taken care to avoid calling what has happened in Cincinnati a riot because the reality is much more nuanced. The vast majority of protesters have not caused any property damage or taken any violent action. Each day of protests has been relatively calm for four to five hours before a tension-filled few hours after dark.

There has been property damage, and that’s never OK, but those moments of darkness for our city should not completely overshadow the hours that came before them.

Last night, as we began to hit a lull in action, our team flashed back to earlier in the day several times to show people that there were hours of peaceful protest — the kind guaranteed by the U.S Constitution.

Finally, we are working to provide context by looking at the underlying issues that have sparked the protesters' unrest. We have a special show tonight on TV and all of our streaming channels that examines race in our region and potential solutions. “From protests to solutions: A WCPO 9 News Special” airs at 7 p.m.

Some people have suggested that we should not cover these protests because we should not provide the protesters with attention, but it is important to report on both the protests themselves and the concerns of the protesters.

As always, I welcome your feedback. And, please, be safe out there.

Mike Canan is the Senior Director of Local Media Content at WCPO 9. Contact him at mike.canan@wcpo.com. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram at @Mike_Canan.