COLUMN: Local journalists are under attack, make sure you know our rights


Reporter Brendan Quealy, who works at the Traverse City Record-Eagle where I interned this summer, was pushed up against a fence and punched in the face last month while covering an anti-mask rally.

According to news reports, an organizer tried to deter Quealy from covering the event that took place in a public park. Two men grabbed the reporter and pushed him up to a fence before hitting him.

Morning Sun reporter Eric Baerren was attacked on Aug. 2 by a parent who wanted him to delete photos from his camera after covering a school board meeting.

Baerren was approached by a man while packing up his equipment. The man asked Baerren to delete photos of his daughter that were taken during the public meeting. After Baerren refused, the parent tried to grab his phone and kick his camera from his grasp, according to a report Baerren submitted to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. 

This violence struck too close to home. Quealy and I shared an office over the summer. I not only share a coverage area with Baerren, who is a CMU alumnus, but he’s also provided helpful advice to many Central Michigan Life staffers.

Those two aren't alone. CM Life journalists also have faced violence and intimidation while doing our jobs. 

Over our 101 years on campus, staff members have been threatened, harassed and attacked. In 2014, we had Delta Chi fraternity brothers barge into our office after hours and demand an audience with the editor to complain about coverage. Later that year the same fraternity stole hundreds of print editions that contained stories about why they were kicked off campus.

In 2016, a female photographer was assaulted by a male student while on assignment at Deerfield Apartments. Michigan State Police investigated that incident. That student was charged. 

In 2017, three men showed up at around 10 p.m. at night refusing to leave until they met with the editor. Only one female student was in the office at the time and she was harassed and bullied until Campus Police were called.   

Blame it on political polarization, social media hysteria, or the spreading of fake news - the balance of trust between the news media and everyone else seems worse and more unstable than ever. 

It doesn't matter what the former U.S. president said. No matter how dangerous the job gets, our motive always stays the same - report the facts, publish the truth. That's what Quealy and Baerren were doing. That's what every staff member at CM Life strives to do. 

It doesn't matter how worked up you are about mask mandates or critical race theory - nothing gives you the right to take your frustration out on a reporter. 

If you're opinionated and passionate about what's in the news, perhaps we can speak like civil human beings. Maybe we'll include you as a source in our stories. But if you prevent us from doing our jobs with violence or harassment, the only story you're likely to appear in is our weekly crime log. 

With luck, this time next year I'll be working full-time as a reporter. I should be excited, but I can't help being frightened by stories like these. 

Imagine this: Someone stomps into your place of business, demands that you stop what your doing, says your work is worthless, that you're a menace to society. You refuse. Then you're forced out with a black eye. 

I am walking into an industry with high turnover rates, layoffs, late hours and, likely, a vow of poverty. But I will work in a newsroom nonetheless because I know this job is important to our society.

Need proof? Check the First Amendment. Need more? Read the first pieces of journalism published in America by our founding fathers - the pieces of writing that helped spark the American Revolution. 

Without reporters to document our communities we lose the first draft of history. Without reporters, good luck knowing who requires vaccines or mask mandates, what's being voted on in local elections or what events are happening this weekend.

We have been targeted as the source for all public discourse. People claim somehow our work is "the enemy of the people." Those people are flat-out wrong.

No journalist wants to be the subject of their own story. 

No student should be afraid of assault for pursuing their dreams. 

Let reporters, photographers and every other media professional do their jobs for the good of our community and our democracy.