While protests happen regularly across the world, the United States has recently had an uprising of demonstrations in all fifty states as a part of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Student Media has created a guide for student journalists covering these protests, to keep themselves, and the protestors they may be recording, safe. The main point in all of this comes from Poynter’s 23 guidelines for journalists to safely cover protests: Safety first, story second.
Before the Event
Identify emergency contacts and tell them where you will be
Before you go out, identify one to three emergency contacts, not participating in the event, who will generally know where you will be. If the event is likely to get violent, it is advised that you write the phone numbers of your emergency contacts on your arm in case of arrest or injury.
Put together a bag of essentials
While out, you may not have easy access to food, water, first aid, essential supplies, or electricity to charge your phone. Essentials to keep in a bag that sits close to your body are:
- Water (preferably multiple bottles)
- Protein bars and other easy snacks
- Small first aid kit
- Portable chargers
- Safety gear (this may not be necessary for all events)
- Gas Mask
- Protective Clothing
Look into First Aid Skills
While you are covering an event, you may develop blisters, roll your ankle, scrape your knee, or be involved in an incident where force is used against you. Your fellow journalists or the protestors may also get hurt and need help.
Lifehaker has produced a helpful guide on the most important first aid skills you should know when at a protest. The Mayo Clinic also has created a page with links to extensive material on the treatment of common injuries.
Familiarize yourself with where you will be located and your gear
If you are not familiar with where the protest will be, take time before you leave to Google the location, look at maps of the area, and identify landmarks you can keep in mind if you get lost or need to give someone your location.
Make sure also to familiarize yourself with your gear. You will not be able to capture what is taking place without knowing your gear beforehand. This can also be imperative if authorities try to delete your footage or ask for your memory card, which the ACLU described as illegal in most cases without a warrant.
Familiarize yourself with your rights as a member of the press
As a member of the press, you are not considered a protestor and are entitled to certain legal rights. However, these legal protections can change depending on where you’re located in the world, where you’re standing in a protest and several other factors. The Student Press Law Center has provided an article helping student journalists start learning about their legal rights during protests.
During the Event
Wear visible press credentials
In addition to having a form of ID in your bag, make sure to wear a visible press identifier. This should have your name and, if applicable, the news organization you are affiliated with. This ID can also be a great place to write emergency contacts, your manager’s number, and contact information for legal help.
Stay on the edges of the crowd
You could be easily trapped if you are in the center of the crowd. Remaining on the edges allows you to escape if things escalate and could also allow you to capture the broader image of what is going on.
Have an escape route in mind
Wherever you are, make sure to evaluate your surroundings and determine how you could exit if things escalate. If curfews are instated, authorities may barricade protestors in specific areas. Stay aware if this happens and think of other ways you may be able to exit the situation. It may be helpful to have one of your emergency contacts on call if you need to be picked up.
Back up photos and wipe your data
There have been instances of authority asking for journalists’ gear and memory cards without a legal order. There are legal protections against this, and you should never voluntarily provide your work to law enforcement. However, if your work is taken, it is good practice to have your work automatically back up somewhere beyond your memory card and to wipe data frequently to avoid what may be taken from you.
Steps to Protect Protestors
Blur and block protestor faces in photos and videos
Protestors have a right for their identities to remain anonymous in private settings, but this goes beyond not publishing someone’s name. Facial recognition software can be used by authorities to track protesters, potentially putting them in danger. To help protect protesters, it is wise to use applications such as Image Scrubber, which erase critical metadata from images and will enable you to blur protestors’ faces quickly.
In public, protestors are able to be photographed legally. However, allegations have been made surrounding the use of facial recognition software on public photos to track people. So, while there is no law stopping public images being taken, evaluate if protesters’ faces need to be seen for the photo to remain impactful.
If you are injured
Seek medical attention
People with medical credentials will likely attend large protests. They often mark their cars or tents with flags showing the red cross (shown below.) Additionally, there may be people carrying medical supplies in the crowd that will identify themselves with red cross pins, shirts, backpacks, etc. Take note of these people and reach out for assistance if you are injured.
Document your injury
Authorities may unlawfully cause injuries. If this is the case, use your gear to document the injury as best as possible. Once you are safe and stable, reach out to the legal team that works with your organization or reach out to the Student Press Law Center for a list of legal steps you can take.
If you are arrested
Immediately ask for legal representation
If authorities arrest you, anything you say can and will be used against you. Refrain from answering any questions and immediately ask for legal representation. Additionally, if you are asked to sign anything, refrain from doing so until an attorney is present.
Gather all information you can about your arrest
If you are arrested, get the names and badge numbers of all officers involved. Additionally, try to compile any footage you may have of yourself getting arrested. Make sure you have access to the location and time where the arrest occurred. Once you are safe and able to reach out to the Student Press Law Center for direction on what next steps to take.
This guide is not extensive, and there are many other resources for student journalists covering protests. Here are some other resources we recommend checking out:
- Student Press Law Center: Tips for Covering Protests
- Poynter’s 23 guidelines for covering protests
- How to protect protestors in your photos and videos
- National Lawyers Guild
- ACLU Know Your Rights
- Curfew orders and the media exemptions based on where you live
- Extensive Q&A for student journalists covering protests
- PSU’s Student Health and Counseling Services
- PSU’s Student Legal Services
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