Editor Daniel Thompson wasn’t covering the Saturday rally for Jacob Blake but attended it anyway. The 30-year-old digital editor of the Kenosha News watched as speaker after speaker took the stage: among them were Jacob Blake’s uncle, Justine Blake, Wisconsin Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, Rep. Gwen Moore, local activist Ma’kia Hughes and national organizer Dijuan Wash.
They delivered touching remarks to Blake and his family, called on urgent social and criminal justice reforms to protect Black lives and urged Black people to vote at the polls. The overall messaging—as it has been with many of the Black Lives Matter protests around the country this summer—outlined the need for change and called on the crowd to do what they could to push that change forward.
Then, one speaker came forward and gave a message with a remarkably different tenor: “If you kill one of us, it’s time for us to kill one of yours,” he told the crowd.
When Thompson later checked coverage of the event at the Kenosha News, he found a headline that specifically focused in on the speaker’s remarks: “WATCH NOW: Kenosha Speaker: ‘If you kill one of us, it’s time for us to kill one of yours.’” He was incensed, finding the framing of the story misleading.
“The story is about the entire reaction of all the speakers and people in attendance, and that quote is one outlier falling within a flood of positive ones,” Thompson said in an interview with the New York Times.
Thompson reached out to Bob Heisse, the executive editor of the Kenosha News, via text message, passing along a screenshot of the headline, the Times reports.
“I don’t even know if I can associate with the company after that,” Thompson wrote. “I need to calm down, but I wanted you to know immediately.”
“Yes you should calm down,” Heisse responded. “That is a public threat, and it is an exact quote at a rally that was to that point totally on message.”
Thompson’s next message was succinct: “Then I quit.”
The journalist—the only Black full-time staffer at the Kenosha News—talked about the experience on Facebook shortly after his resignation.
“I did what I did because today is about Jacob Blake. It’s about his family, it’s about moving forward together peacefully, and I saw that today, and that headline did not reflect it,” Thompson said in a Facebook Live video. “And when they refused to change it, I quit.”
The incident highlights an ongoing debate in the media about representation and coverage. At a time when Kenosha is roiled by racial injustice, the Kenosha News is without any Black full-time staffer to help tell the story of what is happening in the city. It also highlights the disproportionate impact journalists can have on a story, simply by the editorial choices they make.
Journalist and author Wesley Lowery pointed out that the very subjective choice of highlighting one speaker over another speaks to the very fallacy of “objective” journalism.
Thompson told the Times he’s now considering how viable running his own media company in Kenosha would be and has started a GoFundMe under the title “Invest in new Kenosha media.” Interestingly, editors at the paper did end up changing the headline of the article Thompson found offensive the next day. “Kenosha speaker strays from message at rally,” the headline read on Sunday.
After seeing the change, Thompson quipped on Facebook, “Wow. Only took me quitting.”