As social media changes coverage of protests, Lowery leads the charge

Wesley Lowery was in a local McDonald’s in Ferguson, Mo. when he was arrested. After asking Lowery to leave the establishment without defined reason, a Ferguson Police Officer, frustrated in Lowery’s slow departure, slammed Lowery against a soda machine, putting him in cuffs.

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Meanwhile, during this process, Lowery, a reporter for The Washington Post, pulled out his phone and immediately shot video.

“By that point, I trained myself to try as often as possible to show people rather than tell people what happened,” Lowery told me in an interview seven months after the incident.

And that he did. The video, published above his recount of the arrest on the Washington Post’s website, blew up online, arguably changing the way journalists interact with sources, protests, and events around them while reporting in the field.

Despite entering the professional realm of journalism several years ago, Lowery has made a name for himself by using these modern storytelling techniques. Before joining the Post, Lowery graduated from Ohio University, where he served as the Editor in Chief of the campus paper The Post. He eventually interned at The Boston Globe, where he was hired full time and contributed to the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning Breaking News team for their coverage of Boston Marathon bombing.

In Ferguson, Lowery’s quick thinking and attention to his Twitter followers not only allowed him to update the crowds in real-time, but also provided a timeline for himself as he compiled his reporting and produced stories from Ferguson. In an interview with me, Lowery said the use of Twitter for video, photo, and written updates has changed reporting drastically — and has made the process more transparent.

“I can tweet things that I can see happening: those little observations, those little things of color, those details, are things that I can’t exactly fit in my notebook,” he said.

Screenshot from Wesley Lowery's Twitter.

Lowery and other journalists in Ferguson in August 2014 used the McDonalds as a base where they could produce written content for their respective media outlets. Because of Twitter, Lowery told me, each of their reports were more nuanced and complete, since the medium provided a timeline of events from their own accounts and from others’.

I first followed Lowery on Twitter when he was a reporter at the Boston Globe and had under 5,000 followers. After moving to the Post and tweeting wildly in Ferguson, his followers increased to over 110,000. According to a piece in The Washington Post detailing how the use of Twitter in reporting in Ferguson provided a constant stream of narrative, the number of mentions at Lowery increased exponentially.

Screenshot from The Washington Post's website.

Screenshot from The Washington Post’s website.

In our interview, Lowery noted how citizen journalism contributed largely to the narrative of Ferguson at the time. He referred to his relationship with Antonio French, a widely known citizen journalist during the protests in August and beyond, and other journalists as they were able to report on different areas, moments, and events together in a collaborative dialogue.

And Lowery is thankful for those who show up to report — even if they’re citizen journalists. The journalist made headlines several months ago when he ridiculed MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, who suggested Lowery should have complied with the Ferguson Police Officer before he was arrested.

“I have little patience for talking heads. This is too important. This is a community in the United States of America, where we’re seeing it on fire, they are on fire, this community is on edge, there is so much happening here and instead of getting more reporters on the ground we have people like Joe Scarborough who are running their mouths and have no idea what they’re talking about,” Lowery said in an interview with CNN.

In our interview, Lowery emphasized the importance of giving a voice to the voiceless– a mantra for many journalists. With the platform of a national media outlet, Lowery’s goal is to do so, which would thus create a more well-informed community.

“Telling stories is very important; they can evoke emotion in a way no other thing can,” Lowery said.

As the mediums for storytelling are changing, Lowery is constantly adapting. His most recently used social media tools are Meerkat, a live-streaming tool which launched last week, and Twitter’s version of that tool, which has only launched a beta version so far.

As he emphasized in a TED Talk last week which examined how social media has changed journalism and his interview with me, journalists should always stay curious. As new storytelling platforms emerge and the media landscape develops, so should the reporter — just as he’s done.

“Chart your own path. The field changes so quickly; there’s no playbook to becoming a journalist,” Lowery told me. “You have to chart your own path, but be willing to try different things.”

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