COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Protesters credited with helping oust the University of Missouri System’s president and the head of its flagship campus openly welcomed reporters to cover their demonstrations Tuesday, one day after a videotaped clash between some protesters and a photographer drew media condemnation as an affront to free press.
Activists removed yard signs warning the press to stay away from a grassy area of campus that has served as an impromptu campsite for the protesters in recent days. Concerned Student 1950, a group which led the protests, put out fliers encouraging demonstrators to cooperate with the media.
“The media is important to tell our story and experiences at Mizzou to the world,” the flier read. “Let’s welcome and thank them.”
That embrace stood in sharp contrast to Monday, when protesters chanted “Hey hey, ho ho. Reporters have got to go,” and some of them tried to block a freelance student photographer from covering protesters’ celebratory reaction to the system president’s departure.
Video of the incident shot by student Mark Schierbecker and posted to YouTube had more than 644,000 views as of early Tuesday afternoon. It shows one protester telling photographer Tim Tai to “leave these students alone” in their “personal space.” Moments later, a protester identified as Melissa Click, an assistant professor in Missouri’s communications department, is seen confronting Schierbecker and calling out for “muscle” to help remove him from the protest area.
Tai can be heard telling those who confronted him, “I have a job to do,” and that he has as much right to photograph the event as the protesters do to gather in the public space.
Click, whose department is separate from Missouri’s esteemed journalism school, didn’t respond to emails or voicemails seeking comment Tuesday. Her office voicemail wasn’t accepting new messages and a school spokeswoman didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.
Ken Paulson, a 1975 Missouri journalism alumnus who heads the First Amendment Center at the Newseum, credited Tai with being “exactly right,” calling him “both professional and eloquent in his defense of freedom of the press.”
“His job is to report the news in a public place, and nothing is more public than the grounds of a public university,” said Paulson, dean of Middle Tennessee State University’s media and entertainment college.
While cautioning that the protest movement shouldn’t be tarnished by the video, Paulson added that “all journalists face confrontations now and then, and all you can do is quietly assert your right to record history.”
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