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The Ferguson story has moved off the streets and into the grand jury room, which is to say that there is a lull in the reporting in this otherwise emotive story.

The quiet is a good time to take stock of just how well NPR has done so far. The scores of emails that have come in from listeners over these past weeks have mostly dealt with the issues themselves coming out of Ferguson, and not focused on NPR's coverage. By itself, that says something: listeners have found no major problems with the coverage.

I think most of us agree that NPR's reporters, editors and social media teams acquitted themselves well. What follows are smaller prickly complaints, a major kudo for radio at its best, and responses from the newsroom.

Several listeners wrote to complain about the use of the word "thuggish" by All Things Considered host Robert Siegel in referring to Michael Brown, the young black man whose death in a shooting by a police officer set off the riots.

As Kenisha Ford of Capitol Heights, Md., wrote:

During the interview with Dorian Johnson's lawyer, I found the use of the term "thuggish" to be a poor choice of words to describe Mr. Brown's actions at the convenience store. I am in no way excusing his actions in that store, but the use of the term also seems to question Mr. Johnson's character unnecessarily, especially since the security footage shows he did not take anything. The term thug continues to be disproportionately applied to black men and not to men of other races who are behaving in a similar fashion. It continues to perpetuate the idea that black men are inherently more dangerous and thereby deserve harsher treatment. That's not usually NPR's style.

Sabrina Urquhart of Seattle, Wash., added that, "Mr. Siegel needs to apologize and understand that his language merely inflames the already volatile situation."

Siegel, never a shrinking violet, responded:

First, by coincidence I used the same word last week to describe the dictators Sen. Rand Paul would evidently prefer to "instability." I had in mind Mideastern, European, Asian, African and Latin American thuggish dictators. Listeners may hear the implication of 'black' in the word 'thug.' I just don't.Second, Michael Brown should not have been shot. He was unarmed and suspected at worst of walking down the middle of the street. If the cop who killed him doesn't have a surprisingly compelling explanation, he should be held criminally accountable.But, sadly for his parents, the last recorded glimpse of Michael Brown's life shows him committing a petty theft and, when caught in the act, using his heft to forcibly "dis" a man doing a humble job. He was not falling short of an overly demanding standard of behavior.This certainly does not justify what befell Brown a quarter of an hour later. To my mind, though, it is at least as germane to the story as the fact that he was about to start college (cops shouldn't shoot dropouts either) and at least as germane as remembrances of Michael Brown as a "gentle giant."By the way, what is an appropriate adjective for his behavior in that convenience store?

His is a good question. The host's job is a stressful one in which it's all too easy to make miscues on the fly. Siegel is an institution on air precisely because he is so expert at weaving through the sometimes-dangerous waters of live radio, and in this case I think he captured a nuance that seemed to surround Brown's actions that morning. But I can understand the complaints, too, in what was a grey area in which well-meaning people will disagree. Please propose what language you would have preferred.

Some listeners took their complaints in the other direction. They pointed to a recent shooting of a white teenager, Dillon Taylor, by a black police officer in Salt Lake City, and asked why it did not get similar NPR attention.

As David Keele of Reno, Nev., wrote:

The incident in Ferguson involving the officer shooting is a worthy news story and I am glad that it is getting coverage. However, for balance, shouldn't the Dillon Taylor story out of Utah also get some air time? It is nearly identical in circumstance and also has racial overtones. I feel it would represent the balance which NPR strives to achieve.

Ardith Lippert of Bismarck, N.D., more pointedly asked, "Doesn't it have the same buzz as a black 300 lb. kid shot by a white police officer? You don't see how biased you are?"

Mark Memmott, NPR's standards and practices editor, responded last week about the Dillon Taylor story:

We have been aware of the story. Later this week, officials are due to release information about what happened and that could give us an opportunity to report about it. In the meantime, there's been another police-involved shooting in that part of the country. There's no good way to say this, but local stories – even tragic ones – often don't make it on to national news networks. And sometimes it takes another such tragedy or (as in the case of what happened in Ferguson) protests to turn something local into national news. The news in Utah has been covered by local NPR stations. I expect we'll be able to tap their expertise as we weigh what to do.

What is newsworthy is always a source of differences, but to me there is no question that the Utah story, as it currently stands, does not deserve to be treated similarly to Ferguson, or to receive any national coverage at all. Police probably shoot someone of a different race or ethnicity somewhere in the country every week. Until a white community starts rioting against black police officers, or a trend of reverse bias appears, stories such as the Utah one are not particularly important outside Salt Lake City. It would be false balance to treat it otherwise. Even locally, reporting race is irrelevant in most shooting cases.

Some complaints cited other uses of language. Bill Cue of Kansas City, Mo., wrote:

In reporting on riots in Ferguson, the reporter noted "the police HAD TO use tear gas." Based on the images I viewed on TV, this might tend to support the police narrative rather than reflecting an objective reporting stance. "The police used tear gas" seems more appropriate. The protesters' narrative may be "more "the police CHOSE TO use tear gas." If you are not intending to position yourself on one side of the issue, such language choices are significant.

Several others who complained heard the same. A more careful listening, however, finds that Schaper says:

Police are saying they're ready for the worst but hoping they don't need to use tear gas and shoot rubber bullets as they did last night, and they're calling for peaceful demonstrations. [Emphasis added]

It is not unusual for listeners to hear, and remember, their initial impressions more than the actual language. As for the imparted impressions, Memmott responded:

I don't read or hear David saying police "had to use tear gas." He's paraphrasing police officials' hope that they won't "need" to do that again. He's putting that view on them, not making a statement about whether tear gas was needed or not the first time. Now, a listener might argue that the police didn't "need" to use tear gas in the first place — but that the way David phrased his comments implied that the "need" was unquestioned. I don't read that much into it.

I hear it the same way Memmott does, but you might listen to it yourself. The impressions given by language always vary.

It was precisely because of the need explore such debates that some listeners wrote to complain that NPR no longer airs its own talk and call-in-shows. As B.R. Lange of Houston, Texas, wrote:

It is very sad that there is no place on NPR for us to collectively mourn and discuss the killing of the teenager in Ferguson, MO. The highly edited pieces and expert commentaries that replaced Tell Me More and Talk of the Nation do not allow for this. As a result — NPR's coverage of Ferguson is telling us what to think and has WAY too many white voices in there telling us what to think.

NPR says the shows were cancelled to free funds to invest online and in recognition that local talk shows on some member stations are themselves so good. NPR now even collaborates with one of them, Here and Now from WBUR in Boston, and distributes it nationally. Meanwhile, Michel Martin, the former host of Tell Me More, was in Ferguson in her new role as a reporter and as host of what was a highly attended town hall-style forum there. St. Louis Public Radio (KWMU) aired much of the town hall. Martin also gave her own long wrap-up of the event in a conversation with Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep.

But if you are looking for any one takeaway from the Ferguson coverage, I suggest you follow the advice of many listeners and hear this almost 8-minute interview done by Melissa Block with a local black preacher about himself, his son and the community.

As Walt Seibert of Minneapolis, Minn., wrote:

Please convey my gratitude to Ms. Block's for her interview with Rev. Willis Johnson. I was on the freeway when the interview commenced and had to pull off because it made me cry, listening to Ms. Block's sensitive interview of Rev. Johnson and his obvious turmoil about the tragedy going on in Ferguson, MO. That was excellent reporting. It made me think and emotionally affected me.

"Allowing him to talk - not interrupting him or peppering him with questions - was such a gift to me and other listeners," said Monica Malouf of Bethesda, Md. Bill Klemm from Houston, Texas, perhaps expressed it best of all, when he wrote:

Though the medium of radio is sound, something extraordinary happened in the brief silence between Mr. Johnson's sobs that spoke volumes. For a brief cathartic moment, I understood not only his pain and grief, but felt the weight of the violation of dignity people of color experience. Though I'll never understand what it is to be an African American, I do understand the emotions he was expressing. If only we could all communicate on such a fundamentally human level. Thank you, Reverend Johnson, for your brave testimony. And thanks to ATC, as always, for putting a human face back on the situation.

At the risk of sounding overwrought, I get teary just thinking about the interview again.

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