Maria Sánchez Diez

María Sánchez Diez

María Sánchez Diez

1st Place Scholarship Award
$10,000
CUNY Graduate School of Journalism

María Sánchez is a Spanish journalist and Fulbright fellow in the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism fellow, where she is developing The Fuego, digital platform that provides smart and compelling stories for young Latinos in the United States.                    

María has always developed her career in online projects: she launched and was the digital editor in chief of Condé Nast Traveler Spain magazine (Traveler.es). The site has received two Silver Lovie Awards (Best European Travel Site and Best Editorial Work), a special mention at the Webbie Awards (Best Design). It has more than 1.200.000 unique users per month.       

She worked as a reporter for Soitu.es, a defunct digital media hub that won the Online News Association excellence award for a non-English site for two consecutive years, (small category in 2008 and large in 2009). She has also freelanced for El Pais, where she wrote with Alvaro Llorca, the Music and Travel blog ‘Motel Americana‘. María managed the online shorts film festival Notodofilmfest, and she coordinated the social media strategy of PhotoEspaña, photography festival; Revista Eñe, literature magazine; Notodo.com, cultural website. In her pre-digital era, she was a reporter for El Mundo de Tehuacan, in Mexico.         

She also like koalas, old postcards and used to play guitar in the post rock group Cuántico.

 

María Sánchez Diez
OP-ED Submission

POLICE, MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY: SOME THOUGHTS ON HOW TO REPORT ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Technology has disrupted the way journalists cover and receive the news, and criminal justice reporting is not an exception to this phenomenon.

The death of Eric Garner, who was selling loose cigarettes and was choked to death by officer Daniel Pantaleo, was not broadcast by a powerful television network. An amateur observer recorded it with his phone.

In Spain, my home country, we have had our own Garner moment. It’s known as “Tarajal tragedy”. In February of 2014, 14 sub-Saharan Africans who were trying to reach Spain drowned at sea. As was revealed later, the border police patrol shot rubber bullets and tear gas at the men and women who were struggling against the waves. El Diario accessed the footage of the incident and made it public.

As in Garner´s case, the recording played a crucial role in the way media and society perceived these deaths. What seemed just another chapter in the drama of African immigration to Europe soon caused outrage and a movement that questioned the practices of the Spanish border police, which have been denounced by human rights organizations. Last month, a jury in Ceuta indicted 16 officers for their actions in Tarajal.

In the years to come, we are going to see more recordings like these. Not only because some police departments in the United States are experimenting with body cameras for their police, but also because technology democratizes. For journalists, the proliferation of these documents is not only a sign of media’s loss of monopoly on the distribution of the information. It is also evidence that the power of the narrative is shifting to citizens’ hands.

I recently asked Jeffrey Butts, director of research at John Jay College of Criminal Justice why he believed the public response to the deaths of Garner and Michael Brown had been so powerful. He answered that it had to do with how graphic testimonies of these deaths had gone viral on the Internet. “These personal narratives move more people than pages and pages full statistical data about criminal justice,” he said.

This is the context journalists cannot ignore when it comes to informing the public about law enforcement. And it is a more profound factor for media to consider than all the noise about ideological bias that erupts when covering issues like Ferguson. Indeed, it creates new opportunities for media to add value to the coverage. But to do so, journalists must absorb some lessons offered by recent events:

Tell both sides. We must avoid the creation of monolithic narratives. Our job is to find nuances and make sure that all points of view are represented with fairness. Public Radio’s “This American Life” has done an excellent job in this regard by airing two episodes called “Cops See It Differently.” One told the story of Ed Flynn, chief of the Milwaukee Police Department and how he established as a goal to improve the relationship between cops and black Milwaukeeans. Similarly, in Spain, the website Gonzo published an exclusive interview with a border officer. He confessed that his superiors ordered the patrols to pull the immigrants off the border fence in “any way”, including using force.

Advocate for transparency. We need regulation of body cameras. Recordings have sometimes gone dark in decisive moments, raising concerns of manipulation. And there are questions unsolved about who will control the footage gathered by these devices, where would it be stored and who will have the authority to release it. Recently, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that the tape showing the death of a homeless man shot by agents won’t be made public. As journalists, we must insist that a balance exists between public interest and police ability to do their job properly.

Dig deep. In the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death, social media was used to distribute fabricated images that showed a disproportionate response by the police. Instead of being a mere amplifier of all the graphic testimonies that are spread on social networks, journalists must make sure we keep on doing our job: debunking, analyzing, fact checking and providing accuracy.

Encourage debate. Today, video recording is often serving as incriminating evidence or as a proof of the disproportionate police response to insignificant or nonexistent offenses. Watching videos, some people have felt that there is a gap between what it is admissible and what cops are allowed to do. In Spain, citizen recordings of the police’s repression of anti-austerity demonstrators have had a similar impact. If these debates arise in our society, media should serve as a platform that allows different parties to articulate their arguments so they have an impact, if necessary, in public policies.

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