Story of 'Jena 6' ignites alternative newscape

The racially infused story of how the justice system in Jena, Louisiana charged six black youth with attempted murder has been widely covered by the independent media, but it has been ignored by most mainstream outlets.

Josh Wolf
Josh Wolf first became interested in the power of the press after writing and distributing a screed against his high school's new dress code. Within a short time, the new dress code was abandoned, and ever since then he's been getting his hands dirty deconstructing the media every step of the way. Wolf recently became the longest-incarcerated journalist for contempt of court in U.S. history after he spent 226 days in federal prison for his refusal to cooperate. In Media sphere, Josh shares his daily insights on the developing information landscape and examines how various corporate and governmental actions effect the free press both in the United States and abroad.
Josh Wolf
3 min read
If you search the New York Times or the LA Times for "Mychal Bell" you won't find a single article, but the 17 year-old African American is currently facing up to 22 years after being convicted by an all-white jury for aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. Bell and five others were originally charged with attempted murder for their role in a fight with a white high school student.

Known as the "Jena Six," their story has all the characteristics of what you would expect to find in a high school history text profiling the racial tension in the South during the 1950s, but as a current event it has been completely ignored by the mainstream press though it has been covered by many independent media outlets.

Why is this? Does the mainstream media not want to acknowledge the grim reality that racism continues to plague our country? Or has our news media collectively decided that celebrities are the ones worth covering?

According to While Seated:

In September 2006, a group of African American high school students in Jena, Louisiana, asked the school for permission to sit beneath a "whites only" shade tree. There was an unwritten rule that blacks couldn't sit beneath the tree. The school said they didn't care where students sat. The next day, students arrived at school to see three nooses (in school colors) hanging from the tree.

The boys who hung the nooses were suspended from school for a few days. The school administration chalked it up as a harmless prank, but Jena's black population didn't take it so lightly. Fights and unrest started breaking out at school. The District Attorney, Reed Walters, was called in to directly address black students at the school and told them all he could "end their life with a stroke of the pen."

Black students were assaulted at white parties. A white man drew a loaded rifle on three black teens at a local convenience store. (They wrestled it from him and ran away.) Someone tried to burn down the school, and on December 4th, a fight broke out that led to six black students being charged with attempted murder.

How is it that Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan's drunken escapades rule the evening news while the details of this injustice are left to independent journalists and video bloggers to spread the word? Both Collateral and Radar have done an admirable job capturing the story of this injustice, but with less than 5,000 views between both videos it's obvious that much of the country is completely unaware of the 'Jena Six' and the DA who boasted he could "end their life with a stroke of the pen" before charging them with murder.

It is stories like these that demonstrate the flaws and weakness of our news media. The story of the 'Jena Six' deserves far more attention in newspapers and on television. The only explanations for its limited coverage is the fact that racism was supposed to have been suffocated years ago and the realization that it's ugly mug still walks our streets just doesn't inspire advertisers. When companies are faced with the decision to satisfy sponsors or deliver unpopular news, they frequently choose the sponsors and as a result the public suffers.