It was encouraging when Foothills Business Daily (FBD) launched their site. With the collapse of the Saratogian’s coverage of our city, another source of news regarding Saratoga Springs was welcome.
That said, the recent coverage by FBD of Black Lives Matter has been disappointing and regrettably raises concerns about their reliability as a source of accurate news.
FBD’s Reporting On What Happened in Saratoga on July 14
Here are two examples of FBD reporting on the BLM demonstration that occurred on July 14 in downtown Saratoga Springs.
According to the FBD story dated July 19, 2021:
BLM Saratoga held the press conference after a protest last week that wound its way through the streets of Saratoga Springs with the police arresting five people, four on minor charges. Representatives of BLM said that the police were too aggressive in their tactics, outfitting themselves with shields, clubs and body armor, and then rushing the protesters who were retreating back toward Congress Park, they say. [Read the full story here.] BLM members reiterated that they came without weapons and none were found on those arrested.Foothills Business Review July 19, 2021
According to the July 15, 2021 FBD
About 8:15, after an hour of marching, the police gave protesters five minutes to disperse and leave the driving lanes of the streets. Police addressed the crowd through a PA system in a police SUV that at first was difficult to hear. (my emphasis) An officer repeatedly read a statement that said the protestors were trespassing and had to leave the street no matter the topic of the protest.FBD July 15, 2015
I do not take issue with FBD reporting on what the BLM representatives at their press conference had to say no matter how misrepresentative their statements may have been. The public is interested in stories on social justice issues here in our city and news sources correctly see the local BLM group’s statements and actions as deserving coverage.
What I find deeply disturbing is that journalism should not be about simply parroting recklessly inaccurate statements and that unfortunately is what FBD is guilty of.
The description of the events that occurred at Broadway and Caroline as described by the local BLM group at the press conference is simply not an accurate representation and FBD failed in its journalistic responsibilities by not also providing its readers with reporting on what actually occurred.
Likewise the second example above, while not inaccurate, leaves out a significant piece of information that changes the whole understanding of the police effort to communicate with protesters.
Steve Thurston, the publisher/reporter of FBD knows what actually transpired at this demonstration because he was there. I know he was there because I was there.
What Actually Happened
On the evening of July 14, 2021, the BLM demonstrators had halted their march at the intersection of Caroline Street and Broadway. After approximately ten minutes, a police car on Caroline Street facing Broadway, using its sound system began issuing a warning to the demonstrators advising them that the gathering was an illegal assembly and that if they did not clear the intersection within five minutes they would be subject to potential arrest.
Part way through the warning, using a feature in their bullhorns that generates a loud siren sound, several demonstrators, including Lexis Figuereo, attempted to drown out the warning.
It was clear that the sirens were being used to express the contempt the demonstrators had for the police warning.
The small group that remained in the intersection made it abundantly clear that they had no intention of leaving the intersection unless they were forced out.
Simply describing that the police warning, as FBD has done, was hard to hear without observing that the demonstrators were attempting to drown out the police warning with siren sounds gives an incomplete picture of what was happening. It was abundantly clear that the demonstrators were using the sirens to mock the warnings the police were trying to communicate.
Mr. Thurston also had to be aware of the reality that the group occupying the intersection was not going to move unless forced to do so.
The readers of FBD deserved to have this information.
Allowing Readers The Information To Make Up Their Own Minds
People will understandably disagree about the appropriateness of the actions that took place at the demonstration.
Some will believe that the demonstrators were trying to get their message about police racism and violence out and that all they were doing was inconveniencing motorists trying to use Broadway. Traffic could, and in fact had been redirected around the stretch of Broadway from Lake Avenue to Spring Street. They will believe that the police should have simply let the demonstrators block the intersection of Caroline and Broadway for as long as they wanted to.
Others may take a more moderate approach believing that it was ok to let the demonstrators block the street for close to an hour and a half but it was time to return access to the public.
Others will assert that the demonstrators should never have been allowed to block traffic in the first place.
However you view the justifications for the BLM actions, any person who was there that night would know that the demonstrators would not have retreated from that intersection had the police not forced them to. The idea that the police actions were gratuitous because the demonstrators were retreating from the area following the warning begs credibility and the FBD had a journalistic responsibility to report this to their readers no matter what the BLM spokespersons wanted the public to believe.
What actually occurred was that with demonstrators refusing to free the intersection following three warnings, a phalanx of police advanced on the intersection.
Most of the demonstrators fled the intersection and regrouped at Broadway and Division Street. Five who remained behind were arrested.
It should be left to the readers of FBD to decide whether the actions of the demonstrators and the police were justified but to enable them to do so FBD needed to provide them with accurate information so readers could make up their own minds.
The More Nuanced Problem of Determining What Details to Report On and How To Provide Context
FBD is really a one person operation, Steve Thurston. Most people reading the kind of things that Mr. Thurston reports on probably don’t appreciate how time consuming and challenging just covering events can be. To his credit, Mr. Thurston manages to inform himself and his readers of a lot of news, especially for one person.
He also uses a form of journalism that is popular in our digital age. Brevity, as in very short pieces, seems to be the paradigm for the FBD.
Being brief brings with it great challenge, especially in stories that involve radically different narratives coming from opposing parties. In fact, there are stories that simply cannot be shoehorned into a few, compact paragraphs.
There is a point where poorly crafted stories rather than educating their readers actually misinforms them.
Let’s take this paragraph from FBD on the actual demonstration of July 14.
Saratoga Springs police arrested five people, early reports say, Wednesday evening July 14, after Black Lives Matters protesters wound their way through city streets, stopping traffic and sometimes verbally engaging with two mounted police officers, pedestrians and others. Protesters chanted “No Justice, no peace, no racist police” and other similar chants.FBD July 15, 2021
Everything in this paragraph is true. The demonstrators had “wound their way through city streets verbally engaging with two mounted police officers, pedestrians and others.”
Demonstrators did chant “No Justice, no peace, no racist police” and other similar chants.
This is, however, a highly sanitized rendition of what the demonstrators had to say both to the police and to the diners they often addressed.
With respect to FBD, the one chant it quoted suggested a level of civility that was not in evidence that night.
This was not a “We Shall Overcome” crowd. Things were very ugly. As Mr. Thurston had to be aware, Lexis Figuereo’s behavior was particularly ugly and provocative. Mr. Figuereo used his bullhorn extensively to yell expletive loaded rants at the police.
I know that the protesters would argue that the presence of so many police, many in protective gear, was a statement by the city of its hostility to them. Mr. Figuereo has made it clear that he unashamedly has good reason to be as insulting and provocative as he wants.
The problem for a journalist is what to include in an article and what to leave out. It is not an easy problem to solve. It is a constant source of tension between journalists and the people they report on.
Still there are cases of journalistic abuse or ineptitude that deserve calling out.
Were the expletive taunts directed at the police anomalies, it would be understandable to have dismissed them as not newsworthy. Mr. Thurston, as an eye witness, had to be aware of the extensive incidents of demonstrators yelling provocative and insulting things at the police. Some of these were delivered at very close range.
I know that FBD unsuccessfully sought a response to the BLM press conference from members of the Council. It would have made its job easier had FBD gotten members of the Council to offer opposing views. But the lack of statements from elected officials is no excuse for allowing its news site to be a vehicle for Mr. Figuereo to allege that the criticisms of his group’s behavior were without merit.