AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Immediately following the president's resignation yesterday, some demonstrators didn't want to speak with the media. Several even linked arms to keep them out. Now, that policy changed today, but it led to several tense interactions. Reporter Bram Sable-Smith of KBIA - it's a member station licensed to the University - explains what it was like to be in the middle of a story inside a story.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Reporters have got to go - hey, hey, ho, ho. Reporters have got to go - hey, hey, ho, ho.
BRAM SABLE-SMITH, BYLINE: There's a video making its way around the internet of a confrontation yesterday. In it, a photographer - a University student freelancing for ESPN - is insisting on his right to take photos, and the demonstrators insist otherwise.
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TIM TAI: This is the First Amendment that protects your right to stand here and protects mine.
SABLE-SMITH: Later in the video, a reporter wearing headphones comes onscreen and says something inaudible to the photographer. The photographer looks at him for a moment then continues arguing. What that reporter said was, there's nothing to gain from this. I know that because that reporter was me. There are lots of stories about this - not about me but about the role of the First Amendment. I just know a strange thing happened yesterday while I was trying to do my job.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You lost this one, Bro. You got to back up. You lost this one, Bro. You just lost this one, Bro. You lost this one, Bro. Back up.
SABLE-SMITH: That's a black demonstrator telling the photographer to back up. White demonstrators are saying the same thing. The photographer appears to be Asian, and I'm a white man. There's no avoiding talking about race here, not in a story about a demonstration against systemic oppression. And while there were many moments of unity, there were some tense ones too. Only about a half hour later, I found myself with a different MU student who was streaming for USA Today. We were inside a circle of demonstrators.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Step back. And I'm not speaking on anybody's behalf. I'm speaking on my behalf.
SABLE-SMITH: The demonstrator telling us to back up was a white man. So was the other reporter, a grad student from Denmark. Then two more demonstrators who were black women called for more people to come help move us away from them.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Can a black man please come over here please? Thank you. Black men...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Black men...
SABLE-SMITH: This is what really shook me up, and it made me question, what am I doing here? I'm not a reporter complaining about access or my First Amendment rights. I'm confused about why these students don't want this story covered. And race seems to be a part of that. When asked about the rationale for the media policy, demonstrators repeatedly told me, no comment. Later, I noticed a tweet which read, white media loves to make things about them; it's disgusting. I understand the sentiment. After all, here I am writing this story, but I don't really know what to make of the whole day. I do think it sure would be helpful to have a deeper conversation. For NPR News, I'm Bram Sable-Smith in Columbia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.