Reporters to evaluate if Miami embed program was beneficial
- Journalists are split over the value of being embedded with the Miami Police Department for this past week’s trade talks and protests.
Nov. 21, 2003 — The Free Trade Area of the Americas conference came to a close yesterday, one day earlier than scheduled, but journalists covering the talks in Miami say it’s too soon to tell if the Police Department’s embed program was of any value to their reporting.
The Miami Police Department spent several months training more than 2,500 officers from 40 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in preparation of widespread protest demonstrations throughout the city. Earlier this month, Miami Police Chief John Timoney proposed the embed program — similar to the one the Pentagon used during the war in Iraq — saying it would provide journalists “a clearer picture and a better story.”
Vivian Pombo, a spokesperson for the Miami Police Department’s public information office, said 24 reporters — mainly from local media organizations — participated in the embed program each day. She said the total number of embedded reporters is unclear because some news organizations used different reporters every day.
But reporters in Miami say it’s still too early to tell if greater access to law enforcement authorities have helped their newsgathering abilities, or slanted their coverage of demonstrations in favor of the police.
“We’re going to find out when we review this whether or not [the embedded program] has given us an advantage or disadvantage,” said Jack Stokes, media relations manager for The Associated Press’ Miami bureau.
Jane Sutton, a reporter for the (Fort Lauderdale) Sun-Sentinel who is embedded with the U.S. Coast Guard, said she doesn’t need to wait to gauge the value of embedding. The extra access, she said, has proven to be nonessential in covering the story.
“It’s downtown Miami,” said Sutton, of where the conference and demonstrations have taken place. “It’s not like you need special access. . . . It’s an area where anybody can go.”
Foreign trade ministers from 34 nations were in Miami to discuss the elimination of trade barriers in the Western Hemisphere. Demonstrators, consisting mostly of union workers, came out in force to protest the proposed free-trade pacts, saying it would cause a loss of jobs in the U.S.
The Miami Police Department said last week it was prepared for widespread rioting by the more than 50,000 demonstrators who have since converged upon the city. At the 1999 Word Trade Organization conference in Seattle, rioters caused nearly $3 million in damage and more than 500 people were arrested.
According to Pombo, a total of 143 protesters have been arrested during this week’s trade talks. Most were arrested on charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstruction of justice, among other minor offenses.
Diego Ribadeneira, deputy metro editor for The Miami Herald, said it is impossible for embedded reporters to fully understand what’s happening on the streets purely by seeing it through the eyes of police officers. However, the reporting of embedded and non-embedded journalists has allowed the newspaper “to look at the bigger picture,” he said.
In a story in today’s Herald, “Big police presence; few clashes” the newspaper credited 31 contributors to the article — some embedded, most not — which doesn’t include the three reporters who were given a byline.
The story chronicled the injuries suffered by protesters at the hands of police, who fired rubber bullets and hit some rioting demonstrators with batons. More than 100 people were treated with skin burns caused by pepper gas, the Herald also reported.
Earlier this week, Janet Lopez, director of communications for the City of Miami, said reporters were invited to participate in the embedded program to view confrontations between police and protestors from the perspective of law enforcement authorities.
“Protestors cause injuries to police officers . . . our police department is not the aggressor,” Lopez said. “They are public servants, and we hope reporters will show that.”
Sutton says she does think embedding gave reporters an “added perspective.” But based on the stories that have been written, she said, “certainly not the only perspective.”
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press