By SAIRA SUMBAL
“A lot of journalists end up marrying police officers and paramedics.”
This was the reply I got when asking a mentor of mine on the relationship between the police and reporters.
Aside from a comical moment, his initial reaction, though not quite the type of answer I was looking for, reveals something larger: if you’re a reporter, you’ll be constantly working with the police — particularly if you report for a small, local news organization.
Now you hear a lot of stories as a journalism student about the police. The stories where the police didn’t want to divulge information to you to “protect” themselves. The stories about how the police only seem to be compliant with journalists when they want media coverage on a service project the police department is doing. And there’s the uglier, like this.
Now aside from these stories that are often told to young student journalists, we are all enlightened enough to acknowledge that these stories are often exaggerated – and as a result you don’t hear the stories of how the relationship between journalists and police are professional and … dandy. So let’s assume that it’s somewhere in the middle – a tug and push here and there, but for the most part exchanges are normal. And by all means, someone please correct me if I’m wrong.
If journalism is about relationships and your ability to “connect” with your source in an interview, then a relationship that we must invest in is the one that we have with the police. Not the types of relationships that will be a breach of your ability to objectively report on an issue. But the types of relationships where you (a) understand that they have a job to do, and (b) you have a job to do, and you both can come together and respect that.
Things won’t always be dandy, especially when you may have to report on a less than flattering story of the local police department. Or when a police officer who you know well tells you to leave the premises of a scene upon which you are trying to report. But we must not allow these things to stop us from a professional relationship. At the end of the day both parties are serving one group: the people.