Articles about "Police and crime reporting"


Crime scene

Hyperbolic to sensitive, how news outlets treated dramatic car crash video

The 55-second cell-phone video of an SUV going the wrong way on the Interstate, smashing into a sedan and exploding into a fiery ball that killed five people quickly sky-rocketed to one of the most viewed videos ever on the Tampa Bay Times’ website. It’s also a case study to examine how different newsrooms treat difficult content.

The Tampa Bay Times, which Poynter owns, ran the whole video, unedited, along with the sound. The Tampa Tribune ran the video without the sound. WTSP and WFLA used small portions of the video in a package, but then stopped using it, as did Fox 13. ABC Action News used a tight clip of the video in two packages. Bay News 9 ran the video but truncated it before the crash. Read more

Tools:
1 Comment
Handcuffed (Depositphotos)

College papers dropping arrestee names from crime blotters

Those arrested on the University of Connecticut campus this academic year may not feel lucky, but actually they are catching a break. Their arrests are being published in the student-run campus daily newspaper as has been typical for decades, but their names are not being made public.

In the fall of 2013, UCONN student editors ended — at least for this academic year — The Daily Campus’ long-standing practice of publishing names in its regular Police Blotter feature.  The change elicited some sharp questions from members of the paper’s board of directors, some head-shaking and exasperation from the journalism faculty and an apparent tweet by a former Daily Campus staffer who labeled the change as “lame.”

Emotional responses and resistance to change notwithstanding, UCONN’s student journalists are far from alone in considering whether to follow past practices when the Internet has bestowed immortality and eased access to all types of information. Read more

Tools:
1 Comment
This July 20, 2012 file photo shows police outside of a Century 16 movie theatre in Aurora, Colo. after a shooting during the showing of a movie. Police and fire officials failed to tell each other when and where rescuers were needed following the Aurora theater shootings, according to reports obtained by the Denver Post. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, File)

Learning from prize-winning journalism: how to cover a breaking news story

In Poynter’s e-book, “Secrets of Prize-Winning Journalism,” we highlight and examine 10 award-winning works from 2013 through interviews with their creators.

These works are inspiring. They’re also instructive. Starting with the “secrets” shared with us by their creators, we’ve extracted some great lessons about how to learn to do better journalism, and paired them with questions to ask in your own newsroom.

In this first installment, we explore lessons learned from The Denver Post’s coverage of the Aurora theater shootings, which earned the newsroom recognition for its work, winning the ASNE distinguished writing award for deadline news reporting, the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News and The Scripps Howard Award for Breaking News. The Post also received positive feedback from the community, which pleased Post’s News Director Kevin Dale even more.

In “Secrets of Prize-Winning Journalism,” Dale examines the factors that contributed to the Post’s multiplatform coverage of a news story that broke shortly after 1 a.m., when only one person — the night digital producer — was left in the newsroom.

In Dale’s interview with Poynter affiliate faculty member Chip Scanlan, he shared some helpful lessons for covering breaking news:

Aim for accuracy

In breaking news stories, information develops rapidly, and credible sources are even more critical to understanding the true story. The Post didn’t publish a tweet or post until someone in the newsroom confirmed it.

“We knew we would be the source that people in Denver and around the world would turn to for accurate information,” Dale said. The lesson: keep your standards high even in a news frenzy when you see other organizations reporting information that hasn’t been verified.

Ask: what standards do you have for vetting information? How do you ensure the information you distribute is credible?

Use social media to listen and report

The Post dedicated a team to monitoring social media in the wake of the shooting. But it also used social media in three ways: to get information to the public, build stories and find sources. The newsroom posted entries to social media and compiled reporter and photographer tweets of verified facts. Reporters used Twitter and Facebook to find people who were in the theater. That let the Post obtain material, including raw phone video taken by people running from the theater after the shooting.

Ask: how could you more effectively use social media to listen for news and story ideas? How could you find (and vet) sources online (e.g. Facebook’s Open Graph search tool)?

Seek to understand developing narrative, craft strategy to deliver it

The Post’s coverage reflected a remarkable marriage of old and new media.

When the news broke, Dale knew it would be more than 24 hours before anything would be printed in the paper. But he immediately sent reporters and photographers to the scene, organized planning sessions and prioritized story assignments to publish digitally.

Most breaking news situations have several moving parts. Faced with this, the Post decided to prioritize creating a profile of alleged shooter James Holmes. Several reporters collaborated to create a complex and thorough story that took advantage of the strengths of both new and old media. They posted verified facts as online snippets throughout the day, then crafted a long-form narrative for print that put those details into better context.

Ask: what’s the most important content from a breaking news situation? How can you put your best resources to the most effective use? How do you decide on the best publishing vehicle?

Have a process, practice it often before breaking news happens

Faced with the question of whether or not to name the shooter, Dale and his team used previous experiences and discussions to guide their decision-making process. That process, coupled with social media and digital training, has helped the newsroom refine a “full-court strategy” that it put into motion for many major stories throughout the year.

“Plans can be written and put in a drawer and forgotten,” Dale warned. “I’m a fan of practicing solid breaking news, multiplatform journalism every single day. If that is the daily mission, the staff can respond to any story.”

Ask: what processes do you have in place for ethical decision-making on deadline and assembling resources to cover breaking news stories on multiple platforms?

Related: A victim’s mother asks journalists not to name suspect | Denver Post covers yet another shooting, ‘and the whole newsroom gets it’ | The story behind a compelling investigation into how Aurora shooter got his ammo

Resources and Training: Resources for Covering Gun Violence | Telling Smarter Stories about Gun Issues | Ethics and Credibility of Breaking News Online Read more

Tools:
1 Comment
Four-year-old Jake Richards watches as his sister Stephanie makes signs reading "Remember Aurora," during a remembrance event at which the names of people killed by gun violence in America over the past year were read aloud, at Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora, Colo., on Friday, July 19, 2013. Saturday, July 20 marks one year since the Aurora movie theater shooting rampage, which left 12 dead and 70 wounded. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

A victim’s mother asks journalists not to name killer

Caren Teves wants you journalists to remember her 24-year-old son, Alex, the next time you write a story about a mass shooting. Alex was one of the 11 people who were murdered when a gunman opened fired in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., July 20, 2012.

She wants you to feel free to name her son, to use his photo if you like. But she is asking journalists not to use the name or photos of the accused shooter over and over. Teves and the organization she is a part of, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, are NOT asking for a prohibition against the photos or using the name. She told me, “If you are practicing serious journalism, if the name or the image are really important to the story, then of course you should use it. But every day, it seems, I see these images of these criminals I see or hear their names, and they are being used just for shock value or to get web clicks.”

Teves says she is constantly in touch with other families who have suffered from mass tragedies around America. The families have launched a petition drive to try to convince networks to dial back their use of mass killers’ names and pictures. “These families talk about the pain that the repeated use of the killer’s names and pictures. It is a big issue.”

Beyond the pain, news coverage of high profile crimes does contribute to a killer’s celebrity and celebrities generate followers. Investigators found that the shooter who killed children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., kept detailed records of mass shootings. He was preoccupied with the killings at Columbine High School in Colorado. He is not the first. Around the globe, killers and attempted killers said they wanted to commit a Columbine-like attack. Other high-profile cases involve Columbine killer devotees who took their own lives in sympathy with the Columbine shooters.

After the shooting at the Aurora theater where Caren Teves’ son died, police noted three specific cases where copycats directly mentioned the theater shooting as they threatened others. The Denver Post said that after the shootings at Columbine High School, there were at least 3,000 copycat threats made at high schools around America. And the man who carried out the shootings at Virginia Tech compared himself to what he called the Columbine “martyrs.”

The Washington Post once noted, “Marilyn Monroe’s suicide in 1962 allegedly triggered a spike in suicide among young women. Shootings by disgruntled workers at U.S. Postal Service facilities during the 1980s became so relatively common that the phrase “going postal” entered the language. The snipers who terrorized the Washington area in 2002 may have touched off imitators in Ohio, Florida, Britain and Spain shortly thereafter.

I don’t blame journalists for these copycat cases but we have to be aware that high profile cases sometimes inspire repeat acts. And sometimes, they don’t. Despite saturation coverage, there was no increase in attacks on politicians after Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot. It simply does not follow that publicity always causes more crime.

In an attempt to do something to stop senseless killings, well-meaning experts go so far as to suggest that  journalists withhold the names of suspects in mass shooting cases even for weeks after a killing. They say journalists shouldn’t report specific facts about a shooting or show photos of the suspect at all. The same line of thinking says journalists shouldn’t report on possible motives for the shootings.

I don’t agree. It is too simplistic to draw such a hard line between news reporting and homicidal acts. One does not necessarily lead to the other without adding in other complicated ingredients such as mental illness, addictions and easy access to weapons.

I understand the line of thinking that withholding details of a horrific shooting might spare families more pain. Victim families are stakeholders in tragic events, that’s for certain. And they are not the only stakeholders. Emergency workers, communities and, yes, the country has a stake in these awful events. It is right for journalists to find out and report who did it, who knew about it, and who enabled it and find ways it could have been stopped.

After the 9/11 attacks, it was clear the nation needed to know the names of the attackers and their supporters. We needed to find out how they slipped through airport security security and how to fix it. As The Washington Post pointed out, the extensive reporting the man who carried out the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting “helped expose flaws in Virginia’s mental health system, leading to reforms.” And the Post said extensive reporting on the Columbine shooting focused new attention on troubled teens.

The problem I have with Caren Teves’ petition is its specific wording, not in the spirit in which it is offered. The petition asks journalists to abide by these requests:

- Do not use the name of the shooter, except when necessary in initial identification or to aid in apprehension of a suspect still at large.
- Do not publish photos that glamorize or aggrandize the shooter.
- Do not air self-serving statements made by the shooter.

The requests are too broad. When the shooter is the focus of actual news developments, like a trial, or if police discover new insights about how they carried out their crime, certainly journalists should use the suspect’s name. It is a matter of clarity. What if multiple suspects are involved, as in the Boston bombing case? Would the petitioners be more satisfied if journalists called the suspects Bomber Number One and Bomber Number Two? It is too confusing, and journalists should be in the clarity business. But on the other end of the scale, I think of the overly dramatic reporting about Depression Era thugs coupled with headline grabbing names like “Machine Gun Kelly” that turned him into a household name. We should be looking for ground that lies somewhere between anonymity and celebrity.

Whether a photo glamorizes or aggrandizes a killer may be in the eye of the beholder. One of the most debated cases of self-aggrandizing photos involved the Virginia Tech shooter who sent NBC News a video and photos of himself posing with weapons. Journalists struggled with whether to show the photos, how many to air and for how long. Even staged images like those of the Virginia Tech shooter may give us insight into the brazenness and rage of the killer. Some criminals flat out crave publicity. Bonnie and Clyde grabbed headlines and built their legend by mugging with guns. Just as damaging as photos may be the monikers that journalists apply to suspected killers such as “mysterious,” “ruthless,” or “dark.”  Journalists repeatedly use the photo of the Aurora shooter appearing with strangely bright colored hair, adding to his celebrity aura.

Journalists have struggled with what to do about self-serving statements from suspected criminals for decades. In 1995, the terrorist known as the Unabomber threatened to continue his bombing attacks unless national media published his 35,000-word manifesto against science and technology. The New York Times and The Washington Post published it. Journalists repeatedly had to make decisions about whether to publish or air statements released by Osama bin Laden, giving him a world stage to spew his thoughts.

And still, the rantings of John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald provide clues into the motives of those characters.

The tension is always between the pressures of reporting news and not wanting to reward terrorists with publicity. The safe decision may be to claim some imaginary ethical high ground saying you won’t give terrorists or killers the airtime or ink they crave. It sounds good. But I dread the day when journalists turn timid about reporting and important truth just to appear to be sensitive and avoid criticism.

Caren Teves told me, “I feel the pain of losing Alex every day.” While she and I have some disagreement on the details of her proposal for more sensitive news coverage of mass tragedy, generally, I think she is making a reasonable request; that journalists more carefully consider how they report the news.

I tried, in this story to honor her wishes. I wrote the whole piece without using the name of any recent mass killer. We could have decorated the story with file photos of the man who shot her son, but it would have served no journalistic purpose. Before I spoke with Teves, I would have, no doubt, included the names of many of the killers I mentioned in this article. Still, while complying with her request, I don’t think I meaningfully compromised any important truth or clarity.

So I tried to create my own version of her request to move toward the same general outcome she wants while not giving away important journalistic duties:

- Journalists should consider how their coverage will affect victims and their families. The journalist’s first obligation is to seek truth and tell it as fully as possible, while seeking ways to minimize the harm that coverage will cause.

-Journalists should avoid the repeated and unjustified use of images that could glamorize criminals and their actions. Journalists should avoid using monikers or nicknames for criminals that minimize the harm they have caused. 

-It is not the journalists’ job to vilify a suspect who has not been convicted either. Be careful to use accurate images of the suspect that are as current as possible. Pay special attention to the adjectives you use to describe the subject, sticking to objective factual adjectives rather than opinion laden subjective adjectives.

-Use extra caution when deciding whether to air or publish statements from the accused criminal, especially if the accuser attempts to blame others for his/her actions. Be especially circumspect about whether to allow the accused to name others for blame. If you do publish/broadcast such statements, attempt to put them into context, testing the statements for accuracy and truth. Read more

Tools:
6 Comments
Connecticut School Shooting Photo Gallery

Should journalists stay away from Newtown this weekend?

According to The Washington Post, a long list of respected journalism organizations including ABC News, CNN, CBS News, Fox News, NBC News, NPR, The New York Times, USA Today and the Post itself say they plan to stay away from Newtown, Conn., Saturday, the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. WFSB-TV in Hartford announced a few weeks ago that it would not be in Newtown Saturday barring an unforeseen event.

It is the second strong show of restraint in a month. Barely anybody aired the 9-1-1 calls from the schools that officials released.

The reasons to stay away Saturday are the same reasons not to air the tapes. There isn’t enough news there to justify invading the townpeoples’ privacy. There are no public memorials or ceremonies scheduled for Saturday.

Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra told reporters, “Our request is as a community, that you not come here.” Llodra said townspeople don’t want a bunch of TV trucks and cameras clogging the streets. “That has a chilling effect on every resident of our community,” she said.

Interim Superintendent of Schools John Reed, said, “These people have wanted their own privacy. They’ve had their doors knocked on at 9 o’clock at night, 9:30 at night. They’ve been approached and approached and approached. And they’re concerned about being defined by a 30-second clip in the evening news. ”

Longtime journalist and now Poynter senior faculty Butch Ward said, “If somebody called with a great story and the only way to get it is to go there, I would go there. In the absence of a great and important story, I don’t know why you would go other than to say you went. That is a news decision, not based on whether somebody called you and said ‘don’t come.”

“It’s NOT whether we cover this story, it is HOW we cover the story of what happened at Sandy Hook,” Bob Haiman, the former editor of The St. Petersburg Times and retired president of The Poynter Institute told me. “You have to ask if the most important stories about this shooting are on the streets of Newtown a year later. I saw a study that pointed out there were many more state laws passed after the Sandy Hook shooting to weaken state gun laws than to strengthen them. That is a story worth exploring,” Haiman said.

Many Sandy Hook parents became public figures when they campaigned for new gun laws. And still, they deserve privacy when they choose to mark moments of grief and reflection. It’s not like the families have not been accessible. On Monday, families stood in front of the media, said how they would be remembering their lost children and they unveiled a new memorial website. Thursday, families held a memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and TV stations covered the event live. So there no shortage of coverage.

Journalists have become reliant on anniversary coverage. When NBC didn’t carry the 2012 “9/11 Moment of Silence” live, they caught hell for it and apologized. The New York Times and the New York Post also moved coverage of 9/11 off their front pages in 2012, a move that created public conversation about when it is time for journalists to move on.

But let’s be clear, restraint does not always equal ethical. Sometimes 9-1-1 tapes are both sensational AND newsworthy, consider the police calls at the center of the Trayvon Martin case for example.  Sometimes journalists must go even where they are not wanted because it is their job to be there and tell the story of what happened. The whole nation had something at stake after the Sandy Hook shooting as Congress and then states debated new gun and ammo laws.

“There is nothing new about anniversary coverage, especially coverage of a tragedy,” Haiman said. “When I was a newspaper editor, anytime we failed to say something about Pearl Harbor on the front page of the December 7th edition of the paper, we would get calls accusing us of being anti-American and uncaring. The same was true on the anniversaries of VE Day and VJ Day.” So there are two ways to disrespect the families — covering it insensitively is just one way. Ignoring the story can be harmful, too.

While the families may walk away from the TV cameras this weekend, others won’t.  A group called “Mom’s Demand Action” is launching an ad and YouTube video and says it will hold gatherings in 35 states to mark the shooting. The ad, called “No More Silence” shows children standing in a classroom with a clocking ticketing down to the exact time of the Sandy Hook shooting. A person with a bag, presumably carrying a weapon, walks through a school door. The announcer says, “On December 14th, we’ll have a moment of silence for Newtown. But with 26 more school shootings since that day, ask yourself — is silence what America needs right now?”

Even if journalists decide not to go to Newtown for the anniversary, there is plenty of reporting to be done around guns and gun laws. The easiest way to tell the story of the anniversary is to gather soundbites from townspeople, attend a memorial service and call it a day. Deeply exploring the complexities of gun issues, politics, mental health, violence, criminology and America’s deeply rooted gun ownership culture is a lot harder to cover than a press conference. It’s also likely more meaningful.

Avoiding Newtown is not the same as avoiding the issues surrounding it. At least it shouldn’t be.

 Related: Newtown’s media blackout forces journalists to do their jobs
Read more

Tools:
3 Comments

NYPD sort of restores reporters’ access to police reports

The Nabe

Journalists will once again be able to access crime reports at local police precincts in New York City — as long as they make requests through a central information office first. The Nabe broke the story last week of a change in police procedure that would have required the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information to dispense reports.

The police revised the directive after CUNY Graduate Graduate School of Journalism Dean Stephen B. Shepard complained in a letter to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, The Nabe reports. Read more

Tools:
0 Comments
Desensationalizing stories dealing with tragedies such as the shootings at Columbine High School require careful reporting by journalists. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

5 tips on how to desensationalize stories

Every year, news agencies fight harder than before to capture the audience’s attention — and every innovation seems to make that job tougher. With the creation of cable news, the 24-hour news cycle and, more recently, a seemingly infinite number of online options, consumers can get their news just about anywhere, forcing news outlets into ever-more-questionable reporting practices.

Kathy Walton, an audio engineer for several broadcast news services, told me online recently, “I blame the wireless remote control. I’m serious. The day it became so easy to change the channel was the day television news stopped being news and began tap dancing to keep people from clicking away.”

Often, sensationalism is used to lure the audience’s attention. While some publications have made exaggeration and manipulation of the news their stock-in-trade, others stretch the truth less intentionally, not realizing their chosen angle is iffy or just plain wrong. But when it comes to breaking news, especially crime, there’s no substitute for strong storytelling based on solid facts. Read more

Tools:
6 Comments

NYPD stops giving journalists crime reports at precincts

The Nabe | DNAinfo New York

The New York City Police Department has decided to “restrict journalists’ access to the forms detailing crime reports in every New York City precinct,” Amanda Woods writes.

According to an 88th Precinct Community Affairs officer, this is happening because some precincts in the city allow journalists to access the forms, while others don’t. Reporters from citywide outlets have pushed the precincts that don’t offer the reports to do so. As a result, police authorities at One Police Plaza in Manhattan decided that all precincts will no longer grant journalists access to the forms.

“The NYPD’s public information office, known as DCPI, typically disemminates only select major crimes such as murders, sexual assaults and grand larcenies, but often does not include lower level neighborhood crimes,” Murray Weiss writes in DNAinfo. “DCPI is a small unit, so I don’t know how they’re going to handle it,” an unnamed source tells Weiss.

Related: Whether to publish Newtown 911 tapes: A good question but not the best one Read more

Tools:
1 Comment

Editor: Running mugshots of black men was ‘right thing to do’

Chattanooga Times Free Press | Maynard Institute

The front page of the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Nov. 17 showed mugshots for 32 people arrested in a federal investigation of the city’s crack trade. “Of the latest round-up, all the suspects are men,” Beth Burger wrote. “All are black.”

“See their faces all in one grouping and you can’t ignore that,” Free Press Editor Alison Gerber writes in a column about the cover. “You can’t just shrug it off.” Read more

Tools:
4 Comments
Occupy Oakland

Journalists under attack: Pros offer safety advice

Look at this page on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ website and feel a pain in your gut. The site documents the 45 journalists who have been killed on the job worldwide this year. Most were covering human rights, politics and/or crime when they died.

If you think the only journalists who face danger on the job are those working in Syria or Egypt, you’re wrong. Last week, WDAZ reporter Adam Ladwig was attacked by three people while covering a fire. Last month, a woman attacked a WUSA9 crew. A CBS2/KCAL9 reporter and photojournalist were attacked while covering the Zimmerman verdict protests in July. In August, Poynter.org told you about the San Francisco area attacks on news crews. In a six-week period, thieves attacked journalists six times, targeting cameras, computers and tripods and taking gear at gunpoint in at least one case. In 2011, journalists across the country said they were attacked by both crowds and police while covering the “Occupy” protests.

I turned to seasoned reporters and photojournalists and to the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma for advice on how to stay safe and still get your job done. (Their answers have been edited for clarity and length.)

I asked my questions of:

What advice do you have about how to stay safe and still get the job done?

French

Lynn French, KPNX-TV Phoenix: Even though it feels a little “Mother may I?”, I always let the assignment desk or someone in my department know where I am going and when I should be back. It sounds simple, but journalists are independent by nature and have to fight the urge to just run out the door and hope for the best. No matter where I am going, I have my phone on me and location services turned on so if worst came to worst the newsroom could track my phone for evidence. If I am going into a tense situation, especially a door knock, I will call someone at the station to stay on the phone with me and I will tuck my phone somewhere where they can hear me (Arizona is a one-party state). And they know the exact address I am at so if things turn bad they can call the police and I can concentrate on getting to safety.

Shapiro

Bruce Shapiro, Dart Center for Trauma & Journalism: Even local journalists need to be aware of a potentially hostile environment, and pay attention both to the vulnerabilities we share with other citizens and the special risks which may be involved in our work. Anyone should worry, for instance, about being alone on a dark street. On the other hand, a journalist may also need to worry about being mistaken for law enforcement or some other unwanted presence, may be knocking on doors or taking photos in a community that has felt badly treated by media in the past, or may be displaying technology that makes us a target.

Adkins

Richard Adkins, WRAL-TV Raleigh: Knowledge is more than power — knowledge is armor. Know your surroundings and your way around. In the rush to the scene of  breaking news, pay attention to how you got there. What was the road/intersection where you parked your vehicle? Remember the street names. If you need to call 911 on your cell, could you give your exact location? I’m amazed at how often a reporter turns to me and asks, “Where are we?” If I’m working with a reporter at an active scene, the first thing I do is give the reporter my wireless microphone and turn it on — that way while I’m shooting video I can keep track of the reporter, who may go knocking on doors or talking with gathering crowds. This not only helps with safety, but also lets me come running if the reporter finds a great interview.

Pitts

Byron Pitts, ABC News: Pack the best first-aid kit possible. Get certified in basic first aid and CPR. I always carry a bandana, flashlights, local map and contact numbers. I also have a get-out-of jail card — either a note or phone number from the most important person in that part of the world I know. A colleague asked me once, “How much blood are you bringing?” There are places in the world where that is a legitimate question. Read, read, read. And always pray, pray, pray. But at the end of the day none of that may be enough — sometimes the best reporting is not going and telling the story another way.

What are the key things to never do and always do?

French: The No. 1 thing to never do is play the “Don’t you know who I am?” card. I have watched reporters do this time and time again in heated situations and not once has the other party stepped back and said, “Oh, I love your newscast, by all means proceed.” The desperation behind their motives is far greater than the stature you believe your organization has in the community. Something I learned from wildfire training is to always have an escape route. I try to stay close to my vehicle or have a place to flee to where someone can call for help. I am always looking for security cameras on buildings and ATMs, so that if something is going to happen, at least it is caught on someone else’s camera. And even though it is a competitive environment, when it comes to some situations there’s safety in numbers.

Pitts: The “ugly American” thing never works. Be kind. Be kind. Be kind to all you meet.

Adkins: Probably the most important advice I can give is for people to speak up. Don’t be afraid to tell the assignment desk when you have concerns for your safety — especially if you are working alone. The desk may give you an address that’s just a street with numbers to them, but you may know it’s an area with issues. Speak up — tell them that’s not a safe area. In the field, get out if you feel threatened — don’t wait for the situation to escalate. Always have an escape plan.

French: I just try to stay calm and aware, which is much tougher to do than it sounds. If someone asks why I’m there shooting video — especially if they have an edge of contention about them — I’m honest but don’t give any details other than the headline of the story. A little perceived ignorance can go a long way toward keeping the situation calm. If someone prods for more details on the story and it’s not apparent how they are attached to it, I’m apt to shrug my shoulders and say, “I was just told to get some shots of this building, I think it’s for tonight’s newscast. Do you know what goes on here that might help me understand why I’m here?” If someone asks me how much my gear is worth, again I play ignorant: “This stuff? It’s pretty old. It’s like cars — the value decreases really fast. We’re really the last ones using this old format.”

If you are working alone, does that change things?

Adkins: I often work alone. A while back I was shooting video along Oregon Inlet. I stepped wrong and one leg went into a hole up to my waist while the other leg went 90 degrees out to my left, a gymnastic move I had never practiced. I was stuck, couldn’t free myself and could feel blood running down my leg. Luckily a couple of guys fishing nearby saw me and came to help. While I was being stitched up at the local Urgent Care, I knew that from now on someone needed to keep tabs on me while I was out. The assignment desk is too busy, so we enabled my phone for my wife to keep up with me via GPS. I also text her where I am and where I’m going. If too long passes without her hearing from me she will call and check on me.

French: Working alone absolutely changes things. Other than your camera, there are no witnesses who have your back. When I am working alone, I roll tape on every interaction and whenever my Spidey sense tingles. While nothing may come of the interaction in the moment, it has helped me prove my conduct was proper when someone has called the news director after the fact to say I was trespassing or being unprofessional. If a situation feels bad, I trust my gut and treat it as a dangerous situation. That may include not advancing into the scene as fast as I normally would, calling the desk to alert them that my safety is in question, or finding an alternative way to cover the story.

What do you wish your reporter/photojournalist partner would or would not do to lower the temperature out there?

Pitts: My checklist: Get the latest security intel from the government, local law enforcement, private security and any reliable source on the ground. Make sure I’m aware of local customs, weapon systems and the proper threat assessment. What’s the biggest threat: kidnapping, murder, violence, intimidation, robbery? I make sure I pack the proper clothes to fit in or not fit in. I make sure I’m in the best physical shape I can possibly be in. In many parts of the world size matters — if you look like someone not to be fooled with people will usually leave you alone. Have an exit strategy. I usually travel with a team, and here are the rules: Let someone in the home office know your schedule, then stay on schedule. We travel most often in daylight. We know in advance (as best we can) who must get paid on the trip — local drivers, interpreters, etc. Avoid negotiating prices on the ground and never flash money. We make all safety decisions as a group, and unanimous votes are the only ones that count. If anyone votes to stop, we stop — no questions asked.

Adkins: Door knocks are one of the most difficult things we do and most of us don’t want to be there. Recently I was with a reporter on a door knock, and when we got back to the car he turned to me and thanked me for being beside him on the stoop. He said, “You’re the only photog I work with that gets out of the car on these things.” I told him it’s a safety-in-numbers thing so I always go to the door with the reporter. Some reporters like to sit in the car while I may be out shooting B-roll. In some situations, I’ll ask them to get out of the car with me. Again, safety in numbers — and while my eye is glued to the viewfinder, their eyes can be open to our surroundings.

French: Read the situation and consider how the camera will change the dynamic. Cameras are a lot like alcohol, they intensify people’s personalities and intentions. If people are happy, they become happier around the camera; if they are angry, they become angrier at the camera and the person using it. Everyone is trying to hit a deadline, but remembering the people we are covering have to live with a situation long after our deadline has passed will hopefully help us be more respectful of the emotional temperature. Finally, keep an eye on each other and help if needed. Yes, we are competitors but at the end of the day our goal is the same.

Do newsrooms train journalists to handle this sort of thing? What would such training include?

Shapiro: No — and they should. Assessing threats and staying safe — whether that means being smart about physical threats, understanding basic cybersecurity, being able to deliver routine first aid, or basic awareness of psychological trauma — is part of the training news organizations should provide. This isn’t just something for correspondents covering exotic conflicts. Even local journalists may contend with mass shootings, disasters, civil unrest, or simply dangerous streets, disturbed individuals, traumatic assignments or the risk of mugging, sexual assault or being targeted because of our work. It’s an occupational health risk, just like repetitive strain injury. If a news company would invest in ergonomic chairs, why not invest in a safety briefing, first-aid course or trauma-awareness session?

Pitts: The first time I went to Afghanistan for CBS News, Dan Rather called me into his office. “Here are the rules of the road,” he said. “Don’t eat the meat, don’t drink the water and never look at the women.” He was smiling when he said it. And then he turned serious: “Who are the people you love most in the world? Think about it. Go back to your office and write each of them a letter. Seal the letters and leave them with me if you like. Because when you go someplace like Afghanistan, you might not come home.” Then he just sat there and let the idea sink in. Finally he added: “If you can accept that reality, then go with God. If not, we will send someone else.” Period. End of discussion. I share that story only to say this: In our business and in these times there are no guarantees. Read more

Tools:
0 Comments