North Dakota news reporter's social media trail sparks firestorm
A new reporter for the Wahpeton Daily News posted anti-police sentiment to Facebook during the unrest following George Floyd's killing.
WAHPETON, N.D. — A newly hired reporter at the newspaper here is facing a firestorm of criticism about a social media post in the wake of the killing of George Floyd nearly two years ago.
Colton Rasanen-Fryar is the new Wilkin County reporter for the Wahpeton Daily News, a newspaper that serves the Wahpeton, North Dakota, and Breckenridge, Minnesota, community of about 10,000 people, 50 miles south of Fargo.
His Facebook post, which the Daily News said it wasn't aware of when he was hired, contained anti-police sentiments in the wake of Floyd's death.
The paper has since responded to the criticism in an online editorial titled "We can do better."
It said Rasanen-Fryar is apologetic about the damage caused by his old post and immediately took it down from Facebook.
Managing Editor Carrie McDermott said when negative comments flooded in, some of them personal attacks against the new reporter, they needed to take a stand.
"Obviously, it started a conversation that's gone all the way to the top of our company," McDermott said.
The hope is that the editorial can help ease tension in the community, she said.
A graduate of Western Washington University, Rasanen-Fryar worked at its student-run newspaper, The Western Front, first as a reporter and later as managing editor.
The Wahpeton newspaper announced Rasanen-Fryar’s hire in an article online Monday, April 4, and in the following day’s newspaper.
By Monday evening, backlash about his hiring, including screenshots of the post to his Facebook page from 2020, were circulating on social media.
The post from May 29, 2020, came four days after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes as Floyd was face-down in the street.
Rasanen-Fryar stated, in part, “If you are not standing up to the injustices taking place in this country then you are absolutely complacent.”
He expressed support for riots that happened following Floyd’s death and used an expletive about police, stating, “Every single cop is bad!”
The post went on to say, “I will never support a corrupt organization put in place to uphold systems that harm marginalized communities, especially Black people.”
The comments that followed on the Wahpeton Daily News’ Facebook page were harsh:
“Do Better. This is absolutely disgusting,” one person wrote.
“So Colton won’t be reporting on police matters I take it,” another said.
“Canceling my subscription to daily news as well as advertising for my business,” another wrote.
Some comments were personal, attacking Rasanen-Fryar's appearance or assumed sexual orientation — something he said he wasn't surprised by.
"I mean, I'm an openly queer man in a smaller town. I expected some kind of pushback," he said.
The paper said it wished Rasanen-Fyer, who was a student reporter in college at the time of his controversial comments, would have exercised better judgment.
However, they hope the community gives him a chance to prove himself as a reporter and a community member.
"I've been able to grow over the years and kind of change my opinions. … My hope now is to change people's opinions on me as a person and as a reporter through my work," he said.
Rasanen-Fryar, 22, grew up in Vancouver, Washington, just across the border from Portland, Oregon.
Since his arrival in Wahpeton-Breckenridge less than a week ago, he said he's been able to see that local law enforcement officers are part of their communities, interested in serving and protecting.
"Seeing that connection with the community, because it's so small, I've been able to ... understand a different perspective," he said.
McDermott said despite the backlash, her new reporter will do all of the things he was hired to do, including covering court cases and city, county and school board meetings.
"We just would really like to kind of defuse the situation and get back to work," she said.