How Sacramento Media Covered the Stephon Clark Protests
Photo by KFBK's Joe Michaels
The March 18th shooting death of Stephon Clark by two Sacramento Police officers led to more than two weeks of protests, marches, rallies, vigils, meetings and news conferences of a magnitude never experienced before in the community. Sacramento media had to jump into nonstop high gear. Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, who grew up in Oak Park, said it was bigger than anyone has ever seen.
Nearly all the Sacramento news stations pulled out all the stops and had extra reporters and photographers on hand for the coverage. No one station stood out as everyone stepped up but KCRA once again used its market influence by hosting a one-hour Town Hall that generated huge interest and a poll with more than 50,000 responses. Capital Public Radio interrupted regular nighttime programming to cover the March 27th City Council community forum live. Some stations were not prepared for the first night of protests that shut down a freeway and the Golden 1 Center. KFBK did not have a reporter on scene during the drive time demonstration, but KFBK's Pat Walsh took three hours of calls during his night talk show from people who couldn't get into the arena for the Sacramento Kings game.
The various protests were often difficult to cover. Reporter Nicole Comstock of Fox 40 and her photographer were pushed out of the City Hall lobby by protesters. It was all hands on deck, including managers, staying late into the night as the protests raged on.
Social media was put to full use with news stations streaming live coverage of events. ABC10 had a whopping 289,000 viewers with 200 shares of its March 31st, Saturday night coverage of a Sacramento County Sheriff's cruiser hitting a protester. The Sacramento Bee had 29,000 Facebook Live views for the Friday, March 30th downtown protest. CBS 13 drew more than 47,000 viewers at one point on Facebook. KFBK morning anchor Amy Lewis and News 10 anchor Walt Gray used their Facebook pages as a forum to let the community weigh in, often times leading to contentious debates. Cap Radio's Nick Miller used his Twitter feed to recap a timeline of events.
If there was any one reporter who stood out, it was ABC10's Frances Wang, who is very active in her live video game. Wang went live on both Facebook and Periscope to broadcast protesters who shut down the I-5 freeway. One of her live streams had a staggering 491,000 views. Wang also had an exclusive interview with Stephon Clark's bereaved brother, Stevante, who used the video interview to apologize to Mayor Darrell Steinberg for disrupting his community forum by jumping on the dais and shouting chants of "Stephon Clark!"
"If I can get him in a quiet, serene environment, I can get him to open up and talk," Wang said of her interview with Stevante Clark.
Wang grew up in Sacramento, knows the community and said she never felt threatened or scared. She covered the violent neo-Nazi rally at the state Capitol in June 2016 when five people got stabbed. She knew the Clark rally wouldn't get ugly like that, but she also knew it was a tipping point for the black community.
Wang said there were different, gentler images of Stevante Clark that weren't widely shown, such as when he tried to calm people down and bring them together or take time to speak to a family and their young son in a park.
Veteran Sacramento Bee reporter Ed Fletcher also brought people live to the scene of protests through Periscope, which gave us a close up look as events unfolded.
The Capital City is familiar with daily protests at the state Capitol from different groups from all around the state. This one was different, Fletcher said. Black Lives Matter has been asking the City Council to do something about inner city violence, jobs and problems for some time and had a growing frustration that nothing was being done.
"You've got a level of anger that you don't see with marches and events that are planned out weeks in advance," he said.
It was a surreal scene for Sacramento, a community that fought hard to save the Kings' NBA franchise and build a sparkling new arena that is the crown jewel of downtown. Those same people never thought that arena would become the epicenter for two nights of protests, leading to its closure twice while NBA games played out inside. An extraordinary, rare event not only for the city but for all professional sports as well.
Wang said using the arena as a backdrop for the protest sends a powerful message by making headlines not just in news but in the sports world. Both she and Fletcher have personal connections to the story. Wang said the protest affected the area where she grew up.
"I'm from Sacramento and take a lot of pride in this city and its diversity," she said.
I asked Fletcher, who is black, what it was like covering the protests. He said it helped him blend in with the protesters more so than white reporters and gives him an inside voice to talk to them, but...
"I don't think I'm immune to having human feelings."
Stephon Clark was buried March 29th. A Go Fund Me page that raised $82,000 for the burial said the family wanted him buried with his older brother, who died of gun violence when he was 16. Another sister died at birth.
More protests are expected. The Sacramento County Coroner has yet to release its autopsy report and the investigation continues into whether charges will be fired against the two police officers.
In the meantime, Sacramento is now Ground Zero for racial protest and police shootings.
"People all over the world are watching this event," said Fletcher. "It's now a name and a hashtag."
The whole world is watching.
The Powerful Use of Facebook Live and Periscope for Covering the Protests
One journalist Tweeted once night during a Stephon Clark protest that his or her station was the only news station on the air. First of all, it wasn't true, because another station was also live. But with the increasing use of Facebook Live, Periscope and live streaming of events, we can debate what live coverage truly is.
The local TV stations may not have been nonstop live during the night protests, but their reporters were streaming from the scene with big results. Frances Wang of News 10 led with 491,000 views of her freeway protest live stream. ABC 10 had a staggering 288,000 views of Saturday night's protest (March 31) with 5,000 shares. Sacramento Bee had 29.6 views of Friday's (March 30) protest. Fox 40 had 73k views of a news conference. CBS 13 drew more than 30,000 views of their live streams.
These are big numbers coming from news stations using other social media mediums besides traditional broadcast to cover stories. It's an incredible, innovative tool that brings the viewer at home right to the protest unfiltered with all the raw language and emotions you might not see on TV. It's also a great addition to a news station's arsenal to cover a live event when they may not be able to broadcast it.
So what's really live? A news broadcast or a live stream with almost half a million viewers tuned in? Something to consider as news and how we deliver it continues to evolve.
My Mini Rant
I see this in local media but not national media. Reporters and anchors using breaking news events and tragedies to promote themselves and their stations. I believe it's a reporter's duty to just cover the news as its unraveling and not plug yourself or your station. It only comes off as self-promotion or worse, using a tragedy for exploitation. So when I see Tweets from reporters saying "Stick with us! Kxxx has the latest. We have the best coverage! We have more reporters on the scene!" I want to cringe. I think a longer post on the ethics of this may come later.
25 Years in Radio
KFBK's Pat Walsh recently celebrated 25 years of being on the air in Sacramento. Walsh got his start as a producer at KSTE before moving over to iHeart sister station KFBK to do sports in both the morning and afternoon drive for more than 15 years. Four years ago, he was given his own night talk show and has attracted a very loyal following of listeners. Pat, a close friend for 20 years during our time together at KFBK, is a respectful host who doesn't rage or rant (the now outdated radio talk model ten years ago) but instead opens his talk show for all opinions. Pat's warm personality has attracted a different listener, one who just wants to hear a familiar voice at the end of a tough work day and not hear a rant about politics (although he can't always avoid that topic during our current news climate). Pat has fun with audience, whether it's talking about their favorite childhood candy, one-hit wonders or why pineapple on pizza is terribly wrong.
Pat Walsh has locked on to a hidden niche in the Sacramento community that continues to grow.