Whose Lives Matter?: A portrait of racial protest at Boston University

Sometimes, inaction causes a larger outcry than action.

Days after Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo collected 200 and passed “indict,” communities around the country have erupted in protest. In case you have been hibernating for the last six months, two young, unarmed black men were killed by police officers this summer, spurring months of rioting and non-violent protest alike. The Twitter campaign, #BlackLivesMatter, helped organize a nation-wide conversation about racial violence. The outcry had begun to simmer before grand juries chose not to indict either officer responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Last week was a big week for Boston activists. Adults from around the Boston area have continued to protest around the city, from Sommerville to Roxbury to the Boston Common. Protestors have blocked traffic, swarmed public events and demanded a voice in the conversation about race and police brutality.

BU is no exception. From a #HandsUpWalkOut protest Dec. 1 to the vigil for Michael Brown Dec. 2, BU students have responded loudly and forcefully in solidarity with the protestors, especially in Ferguson, Missouri.

At the protest on Dec. 1,  students started the protest with a 1 p.m. walkout, followed by faculty speeches, a few minutes of chanting, a die-in, a moment of silence and, finally, a march through campus. The racial tension within the protest itself was palpable.

“No, please, white people, join us,” a few black students murmured, watching young white activist chant, “Black lives matter.”

Twenty minutes earlier, a handful of primarily white students were holding their arms above their heads in the center of Marsh Plaza on the Boston University campus. “Hands up, don’t shoot,” they cheered. As a black woman led students in a chant, a white teenager interrupted her to say, “Excuse me, we actually organized the event, and we were planning on doing a die-in.”

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Nai Collymore-Henry is a student activist at BU. She’s a co-director of the Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism at BU, and she’s pretty tired of seeing white students take over protests against racial oppression.

“In order to be a good ally, you need to make sure the narratives of race that need to be told are at the forefront,” Collymore-Henry said in an interview. “Even though you might be the greatest organizer in the world, it’s not your responsibility to lead people. It’s your responsibility to empower people to act on their own and let their voices be heard.”

Check your privilege, social justice buzz-phrase of the year, still means something, even after it was reduced to a meme. Acknowledging the myriad ways we benefit from whiteness means more than screaming loudly at an intangible ‘patriarchy’ or ‘white supremacy.’

“Activist” has been reclassified as a marginalized identity. It has its own culture, its own triggers, its own claim to a safe space. It has a high death toll, as most marginalized groups do, but what it’s missing is inevitability. An activist can go home, turn on “Futurama” and take a break for a while. A person of color can’t take a break from his or her race.

Pamela Lightsey, associate dean of community life and lifelong learning within BU’s School of Theology, argues the white voice, alongside the voices of other people of color, is important in achieving the goal of racial equality.

“The liberation of black people at the hands of oppression in America has never been won by black people alone,” Lightsey said. “Historically, the liberation of black people and the advancement for our human rights has come with persons who stand in solidarity outside of our particular context.”

Both Collymore-Henry and Lightsey do take issue with the edited hashtag #AllLivesMatter.

“Let’s not diminish the movement with phrases like ‘all lives matter,'” Lightsey said.

Collymore-Henry saw her fair share of “#alllivesmatter”s at the protest in Roxbury, Massachusetts Nov. 25. She’s sympathetic to the universality of the phrase, but overall, she thinks it does more harm than good.

“The most awful things I saw at this rally were people claiming ownership over the black community and changing ‘black lives matter’ to ‘all lives matter,'” Collymore-Henry said. “I understand that on a level – we’re all human, people all experience grief and hardship – however, this is a race thing.”


News Track: Vice News reporting on drugs

Story: Back from the Brink: Heroin’s Antidote

Source: Vice News

Vice has a history with drug coverage. The 2012 Vice Youtube video, “World’s Scariest Drug,” has 9.6 million views, and was one of its first viral videos. Drug coverage made sense for the Vice market: Young adult men who were interested in alternative news and interesting stories.

Since then, Vice has grown up. The news organization has bureaus around the world, covering the Islamic State, Ukraine and Ebola. More and more frequently, Vice is earning the respect of major news, even earning mild praise from New York Times columnist David Carr.

The Vice News portrait of a community with Narcan is mature coverage of drugs from the perspective of a former addict: Vice is no longer experimenting with drugs; it’s now facing the consequences.

“Back from the Brink” opens on a man shooting up in an alley. It’s uncomfortably close, an image of unadulterated drug use foreign to the average news consumer. Producers Nilo Tabrizy and Claire Ward continue to reveal intimate moments in a drug addict’s life in full technicolor: homeless addicts discussing drug use, volunteers picking up used needles off sidewalks, parents of addicts picking up Narcan from shelters.

Naloxone, more commonly known as its brand name Narcan, is a drug that reverses the effects of heroin overdose. It is widely available in fifteen states, including Massachusetts. Tabrizy and Ward toured the troubled communities in Massachusetts, spoke to addicts, health care providers and a former OD-reversing vigilante about how Narcan has saved lives – or perhaps enabled young addicts.

The portraits are haunting: a recovering addict who has OD’ed 14 times now 11 months sober, worried parents watching their child slip back into addiction and volunteers who have seen more than a handful of life-risking overdoses. They all shared the same sentiment: Narcan might keep addicts addicts, but at least those addicts are alive.

Vice holds on to its “just a guy” reporting gimmick, with several shots of Tabrizy driving through Massachusetts and nodding sympathetically during interviews. B-roll is always setting: The inside of a car, the streets of Quincy, the dog sitting on Tabrizy’s lap. The video includes a map of states with and without Narcan programs, and the story is thirsty for more graphics. Numbers factor in here, significantly: In Massachusetts, the number of fatal overdoses has dropped by 60 percent since the Narcan program was introduced. Instead of focusing on a furry face, Tabrizy and Sard should focus on making those numbers tangible.


FreePFunded: Why we keep saving student newspapers

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We all thought the FreeP was a goner.

Boston University’s Daily Free Press announced Nov. 10 that they had to raise $70,000 in around eight weeks if they wanted to keep printing. The number comes from a gargantuan debt owed to the printer, Turley Publications, that gave the paper an ultimatum earlier this month.

But the paper survived, raising around $82,000 in two days.

With more and more dailies going online (The Seattle Post Intelligencer, for instance), why save a print edition at all? Big-name journalists around the country have said it’s worth saving, including Saba Hamedy of the Los Angeles Times,  Bill O’Reilly of FOX News and David Carr of The New York Times. So how did the Daily Free Press raise over $70,000 in two days? Here’s what the experts are saying:

1.They had already cut down the print presence

The Daily Free Press began printing weekly for the first time since its inception this semester. They developed a design team for the layout and began playing with more inventive ways to print their issue. Originally, the weekly issue was an attempt to curb the mounting printing debt, but the choice may be a smarter choice than the paper originally thought.

Student newspapers around the country have been cutting down on the daily print presence. The University of Oregon’s Daily Emerald prints twice each week and promotes their website first and foremost, a change they explained in a PBS Media Shift story. The Columbia Daily Spectator announced a switch to a weekly print edition in April of this year. To David Carr, New York Times columnist and professor within the College of Communication, weekly printing is far from unreasonable.

“I talked to some of the kids [at the Daily Free Press] and asked them what they were doing to stay relevant, and they said, ‘You know, we knocked our print edition down to once a week, we redesigned to make it more user-friendly…’ It seemed like they were doing everything they were supposed to,” David Carr said.

2. They had pimped out the website

The Daily Free Press didn’t pretend online is irrelevant. Around the time they switched to weekly printing, the student paper redesigned their website to include more exclusive content, longer versions and better multimedia.

Again, the FreeP is following successful trends: The Columbia Daily Spectator moved to 24-hour coverage online alongside weekly printing, the same way the Daily Emerald did two years prior.

“Even if all the weekly issue does is serve as a brochure or a hood ornament for the online website… I think it’s okay,” Carr said.

3. They have a powerful alumni network

Saba Hamedy of the Los Angeles Times has little to nothing in common with FOX News anchor Bill O’Reilly. Except, of course, that they’re both FreePers.

“When I’m stressed, I still go to them for advice or for lead writing,” Hamedy said in the Daily Free Press testimonial video released this week.

Tyler Lay, chairman of the board at Back Bay Publishing (the board of directors at the Daily Free Press), sent out an email to alumni asking for donations at the beginning of FreePFund. When they opened the GoFundMe, a slew of familiar bylines popped up. Hamedy donated to the FreePFund through the GoFundMe. Bill O’Reilly donated $10,000 to the Daily Free Press, the second-largest donation made to the fundraising effort.

“We had a blast, it was just a great experience … I wanted other students at the school to have the same experience I did,” O’Reilly said in an interview with Business Insider.

4. Boston’s a hotbed of journalism

“Boston is, really, a good journalism town,” Carr said. “There’s a hunger in the community for journalism, some of which is embodied in an actual, physical paper.” Historically, this perspective makes sense. The first newspaper printed in the United States was the Boston News-Letter. Benjamin Franklin learned to print in Boston before moving to Philadelphia. The first war correspondence took place during the Revolutionary war. A love of independent journalism may just be in our genes.

5. They stayed independent

“Recent experience has shown that non-independent journalism doesn’t work out very well,” Carr said.

The Daily Free Press is a completely independent newspaper. It receives no funding from the university, and actually pays the university rent for its editing space. The founders of the FreeP thought this principle was crucial, especially considering the campus climate during which it was born. Massive protests on campus turned violent after the Kent State shooting, and the paper decided to report without the sway of the administration.

“It’s a very positive experience when you have a newspaper not run by teachers,” O’Reilly said in the same interview.


News Track: The Recovery that Wasn’t (Vice News)

Story: The Recovery That Wasn’t – Two Years Since Hurricane Sandy

Source: Vice News


The latest featured short documentary by Vice News is similar to their traditional style: Self-aware amateur journalism. Vice doesn’t seem to want to be big-name news; they want to speak for the people as people.

Nonetheless, Vice’s coverage of the Hurricane reconstruction effort has moments of sparkling professionalism and moments of uncomfortable incompetence. For instance, the choice of subjects – a lovely balance of government officials and locals affected by the hurricane – was thoughtful and engrossing. The use of graphics was particularly noteworthy, illustrating the daunting number of those still waiting for assistance with disturbing accuracy.

However, certain moments feel “raw and uncut” to the point of appearing sophomoric. For instance, there’s crooked b-roll included in the shot, peaking audio and unnecessary stand-ups that could have easily been a voiceover.

Nonetheless, if you can get past the ironically showy realism, the material of the story itself is valuable and evocative.

News Track: Election Coverage (or lack thereof)

Story: Why the 2014 Midterms Matter – and Why Nobody Seems to Care,

Source: Vice News

Vice News wrote one story on the election yesterday. It didn’t make the first screen, included one photo (of an “I Voted” sticker), and included zero updates or results. For an organization claiming Americans should care about the midterm elections, they don’t seem to practice what they preach.

Within the first three graphs, Ari Ratner makes two claims – that Washington would not be fixed by the best-possible results in the then-anticipated midterms, and that the political system is broken. Tacked on to the end of his third graph, he adds “the stakes… remain high.”

Ratner goes on to explain what anyone with a basic understanding of this year’s midterm already knows: Republicans were favored to take back the Senate, and that it would be a victory for the democrats if the republicans fell short. And yet, the argument and its delivery fail to explain why we should care. So far, only Ratner has fallen short.

After all of that riveting non-news, Vice splices the story with a link to a completely unrelated documentary about coal mining. It feels as if Vice is as bored as Ratner is.

This reporter doesn’t blame Vice.

If Republicans succeed, expect a new series of confrontations. There will be showdowns with the President. There will be squabbling within their own caucus between hardliners angling for the party’s presidential nomination — such as Texas Senator Ted Cruz — and moderates who will have to protect their seats in 2016, when the electoral map favors Democrats.

Again, Ratner offers no new, insightful information. How are presidential showdowns or inner-caucus squabbles in any way different from the typical work day for a senator?

Ratner’s piece feels closer to a news summary, maybe even a News Track, than a story. He refers back to past election coverage, saying Vice focused their election coverage on the environment — an interesting, noble effort. However, we have no way to scroll through past stories excluding a collection of hyperlinks. Why not create a midterm election tab at the top of the page, alongside the Islamic State, Ferguson, Ebola and Ukraine?

It’s possible that, in the eyes of Vice (and potentially the rest of the world), death and destruction are far more newsworthy.


News Track: Vice News Short-Form Documentaries

Stories: Islamic State Member Warns of NYC Attack In Exclusive Interview (above); Abortion Rights in Ireland; Yemen: A Failed State

Source: Vice News

Vice News garnered international recognition for a short documentary they recently released about the Islamic State, and any study of Vice News would be incomplete without a review. I watched three of the short-form documentaries on Vice News to see if there is any cohesion in the style of filmmaking or quality of work.

“Abortion Rights in Ireland” covered a small protest in Ireland for the pro-choice movement “Repeal the 8th,” referring to the eighth amendment in the Irish Constitution, which restricts abortions. The journalist interviewed a woman who received an abortion in England after she was raped, and a woman of the pro-life movement who believed abortions hurt women overall. The piece was well-reported, with knowledgeable and applicable sources, but the actual style of the documentary distracted from the piece itself. For instance, compared to an Independent Television News documentary, Vice documentaries feel overly sentimental and gimmicky.

In the interview with Farah Shirdon, the Canadian ISIS recruit who has become an international talking head for the Islamic State, Vice toned it down. They let the interview stand in its entirety with little to no background information, excluding a few slides of text. Shirdon is a powerful orator, and Shane Smith (the founder of Vice) asks good questions with very little pretense. The bare-bones style of the interview, in addition to the beautiful shot of Smith standing in the Vice offices in Brooklyn, let the importance of the conversation stand alone.

The final video, “Yemen: A Failed State,” is the most artfully constructed and reported. Powerful b-roll plays through the documentary, highlighting the violence and blood of life in Yemen. Vice profiles three different groups within Yemen: The rebel Shiites, the southern separatists and the anti-Al Quaeda volunteers. Each group is represented fairly, with dutiful pause on what would drive someone to kill in such a state. The cinematography never distracts, the voiceovers provide valuable information, and none of the language is too colloquial or verbose. Overall, it is the strongest short documentary of the three.

Vice documentaries vary in quality. Some feel sophomoric, similar to what would be done in an introductory broadcast class. Others evoke memories of past Christiane Amanpour work, gritty yet professional. As soon as Vice develops a cohesive style, it will set itself apart as a video news outlet.


News Track: Vice News Capsules

Vice News releases daily “news capsules,” short videos that summarize the headlines of the day. These News Capsules are arguably the strongest item on their site, simply because they stand out from other news summaries entirely.

Consider, for instance, the daily news summary on PBS’s The Newshour. Hari Srinivasan will talk for around five minutes about primarily US headlines, including a stock market update and POTUS check-in. Vice, on the other hand, knows their audience. Throughout the update, Vice uses b-roll from various other stories they’ve run within the four major regions they cover (demonstrated by a bar at the bottom of the screen, simply black and white to avoid any unnecessary distraction). They never run longer than 3 minutes, and each of the stories is visually appealing and often off the major news networks.

For instance, in the Oct. 22 News Capsule, we see the last moments of a Syrian woman being killed for adultery by the Islamic state, the crime scene after a fatal car crash in Canada, Israeli soldiers harassing a young disabled Palestinian boy and dead bodies after violence in Colombia. Most major news networks would avoid showing dead bodies on the air; Vice doesn’t flinch.

The video itself is very simple – take footage and do a voice-over over the whole thing. However, the information presented is raw, powerful and captivating, all delivered in under three minutes. In a world where no one has time to pay attention, Vice knows how to stand out.