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Sucker punch: How police control of media in Ferguson affects us all

Journalism has a responsibility to our citizens to build democracy through information, which has the power to encourage involvement and investment. When freedom of the press is threatened, democracy is threatened.

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This morning's news coming from Ferguson, Mo. was a sucker punch to my stomach. I read of journalists being asked to leave. Many stayed, holding to their honorable role in society. They were consequently being harassed, arrested or worse because of it.

I have been keening ever since, trying to regain my footing on what I believe to be American soil.

Whenever I explain what we do at The Rapidian, or the meaning of citizen journalism in general, I refer to the Arab Spring, and how citizens rose up and reported, because the media was not allowed. So the regular citizens right in the middle of it kept us informed and their own governments accountable. 

"But of course we don't have that problem here," I say.

After last night, I can no longer say that freedom of the press is a respected right in my country. This morning, I hear of how St. Louis-the city whose suburb of Ferguson is seeing their media shut out- is "often regarded as the most American of America's cities." I am told that if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

After last night, the full breadth of impact possible when we create access to news platforms has a new facet - a bloody, tear-gassed facet- and I feel the weight of the importance in helping our local citizens know how to tell their stories, and tell them well. I have an even greater sense of the responsibility journalists have- whether professional or citizen journalists- to uphold the ethics of our craft. We bring the truth to light. We inform the people. We are a necessary part of the structure of democracy. How we handle that responsibility- what we do with that right and privilege- either strengthens or diminishes our democratic process.

Waiting for me on my desk today were stories of local videographers doing good work, people with disabilities sharing their stories to help us understand their lives better, a run-down of local microbrews on tap, and edits for how to sign up to be a citizen reporter for The Rapidian.

Let me be clear. Our local businesses and food and economy and people with struggles are all infinitely important to me. I am passionate about sharing each of these stories with our readers, our community. 

I love that I get to work to make sure our local citizens can share the stories that help their neighbors to move from informed to involved to investing in their local community. But perhaps the most important part of today's to-do list was that page edit for how to gain access to this platform called The Rapidian. I get to make sure local citizens have a platform where they can speak up- and be heard- on issues such as panhandling, racial prejudice and taking care of our veterans. Our local citizens, empowered to become the holders of our knowledge, can build civic investment like no other. 

Today, I am reminded why I do what I do. We are not just providing a platform. We are a necessary part of building a structure of democracy that will hold fast even if the land of the free crumbles below us. I pray that this remains an "if" and not "when." I hope against hope that our citizen journalists will never be in need of reporting what our government disallows the professional media to do. I do not want our city's citizens to be stripped of their rights to freedom of the press- and yesterday I would have told you that was preposterous. 

But this morning, while a suburb of St. Louis proves me wrong, I feel deep in my gut the importance of empowering our local citizens to be citizen reporters. I am thankful for a City government that appreciates our efforts. But I'm also overwhelmingly aware that what we believe to be firm can crumble below us, and we as a citizen journalism platform are responsible for ensuring that our local citizens have access to and assistance with the democracy-building activity of journalism.

We will bear witness. We, the citizen journalists of America, will continue to keep our people informed and accountable. And we will fight for the right of professionals to do the same. Freedom of the press took a blow today. But she will not be silenced.

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