The Media and the Death Penalty in Arkansas

The world watched as Arkansas attempted a rapid series of executions. University of Central Arkansas Communication students spoke to media witnesses. Here’s what they learned…

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The State of Arkansas attempted to execute eight men in an 11-day span in April 2017. The rapid pace, brought on by the imminent expiration of the lethal injection drugs, drew national and international attention to a correctional facility along a rural highway near a town of 523 people.

This semester, beginning four months later, I taught a special topic course on public relations, the press and public affairs at the University of Central Arkansas. We chose the executions as our local issue to examine, looking at the relationship between journalists, government institutions, and advocacy groups in framing and disseminating information to the public.

One of our goals was to communicate what we learned to the larger campus community. As I began to schedule possible guests, they were requesting the same dates. And so we decided to bring four broadcast journalists on the same day and hold a public forum. To my knowledge, it marks the first time since the executions that those witnessing and reporting on them have come together to speak about those experiences.

On Wednesday, November 15, we welcomed three witnesses – one from each of the TV news groups in Little Rock – and one public radio reporter who reported heavily on open-information struggles between media and the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

The event was entirely prepared and implemented by students in the class. Their PR know-how secured a location and resources for the event, as well as promoted it on campus and to the surrounding community (here’s their news release; you’ll see some of the other materials below). Meanwhile, they used their journalistic skills to research the executions and the major players involved.

On the day of the forum, students handled everything from seating and administering extra credit to streaming, facilitating media covering the event, and moderating our panel.

It’s a proud day for a professor when all I have to do is invite the crowd to give them a hearty round of applause at the end of a job well done.

You can watch the archive of our Facebook Live stream here:

Thanks to some dedicated live tweeters, we have quite a collection of highlights from the event. Enjoy…

Note: If you have a particularly tough ad-blocker, you may need to disable it to see the pictures and videos accompanying the tweets.

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