Free the press, it’s for the people



About two weeks after a train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, residents who had evacuated are coming back home. So is journalist Evan Lambert, after his arrest at a press conference with Ohio’s governor. Police on the scene accused him of talking while the governor was talking, but in a video of the scene from WKYC Studios, Lambert said he was just doing his job.

The train derailment has introduced carcinogenic chemicals such as vinyl chloride and other flammable gases to the soil system and water systems, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While residents are only facing ailments like headaches and irritated skin, there are concerns about long-term health risks if the affected area isn’t thoroughly cleaned up. Some animals including foxes, chickens and over 3,000 fish in the area have already died.

It’s up to journalists to be on every side of an event like this one. It’s journalists who break down the science in simple terms so every reader can understand the consequences of this train derailment. It’s journalists who advocate for the community affected by telling their stories in the midst of a much larger one. It’s journalists who will hold all entities involved accountable for their commitments to rectifying this situation.

There couldn’t be a redder flag than a journalist getting arrested at a press conference, simply trying to cover the developments in Ohio for the benefit of the people.

Lambert was charged with criminal trespass and resisting arrest, but the charges were dropped this Wednesday. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost stated there was insufficient evidence for either of these charges; Lambert was in the middle of a live report when the governor began speaking, and he stopped filming as soon as he realized. That was all it took for four police officers to remove him from the room and put him on his stomach.

Lambert said it wasn’t lost on him that, as a person of color, his police interaction could’ve been worse. Yost also acknowledged the importance of journalists on the ground when there are class action lawsuits, governmental clean-up plans and local residents who want their voices to be heard.

Since the train derailment debacle began, TikTok users have been instrumental in relaying the facts and in-person perspectives to wider audiences. Videos and their comments alike wonder why more news — on both mass and local scales — aren’t publishing more news about Ohio on their front pages. The ongoing problems continue to be documented by all major news organizations, but the arrest of even one reporter should cause concern.

A free press is essential to the wellbeing of the people, but especially vulnerable communities facing threats to their health and surrounding environment. The future of East Palestine, Ohio depends on how journalists tell its story and how many people have access to the information.