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Plan and pack for social media coverage of protests

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The three phots on this page are from the Women’s March Jan. 21, 2017 and show what a similar protest could be like March 24. Photos courtesy of Marina Hendricks.

by Marina Hendricks, CJE
Social media offers great possibilities for real-time reporting of protests. Here’s some advice for student journalists who are preparing for protest coverage, based on my experience attending the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21, 2017.

Before you go

Check rules and regulations. Participants in the Women’s March were limited to clear backpacks and handbags roughly equivalent to the size of large wallets. I didn’t have a backpack, so I carried a small cross-body bag and wore a jacket with plenty of pockets for stashing equipment and supplies.

Develop a communication plan. Save phone numbers in your devices so you can contact each other. Use an app such as GroupMe, WhatsApp or Signal to organize group messaging. Study maps to become familiar with the area. Designate a safe rendezvous point away from the protest site (such as a restaurant or coffee shop) and set times for regular in-person check-ins.

Figure out what you’re going to use. In selecting your social media channels for protest coverage, consider where you’re most likely to engage with your audience that day, then make a list of relevant hashtags and handles. Large-scale events typically have both national and local organizing groups. Determine which hashtags you’re most likely to use, and identify the social media players you plan to tag and @mention. Save the list where you can find it easily.

Prepare for coverage. Social media reporting involves working with phones, and large crowds of people mean jammed cellular networks. This excellent article by Beatrice Motamedi, CJE, contains tips on working around jams to report and communicate, and provides other helpful advice. Take an extra phone charger, a clear plastic bag to protect your phone from rain or snow, a small notebook and a couple of pens.

Pack for a long day. In addition to reporting gear, you’ll want items to keep you comfortable throughout the event. These include a refillable water bottle that can be attached to clothing, hand wipes, hand sanitizer, tissues, granola or protein bars, a small first-aid kit, over-the-counter pain reliever and necessary prescription medication, cash (small bills), mass transit cards and maps of the area. Tuck photo identification and proof of health insurance in an inside pocket of your jacket for safekeeping.

At the event

Choose attire carefully. Wear comfortable shoes and a jacket and pants with lots of pockets. Dress in layers, with long-sleeved shirts or hoodies that you can tie around your waist if you get too warm. “Glittens” protect your hands while keeping your fingers free to work your phone. A ballcap can help protect your eyes from sun or rain, depending on the weather.

Practice safety. Make sure a trusted adult knows where you’re going to be and how long you plan to be there. Follow the buddy system – work in pairs. Maintain awareness of the environment around you. Look for alternative routes to exit the protest site. Be prepared to see and hear things that may make you uncomfortable. Remember, you’re there to report. If you feel unsafe, however, leave the area.

Make yourself identifiable as a student journalist. Carry a staff photo ID and/or wear a staff shirt. If you have business cards, take some with you.

Be considerate. There’s no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place. That said, when interviewing and shooting photos or videos, make sure people are comfortable with what you’re doing.

This is especially important with children. Ask permission first, from the kids as well as their parents. Even if kids seem comfortable, parents understandably may get nervous. They may not want their children on social media. For tips on interviewing children, see this Columbia Journalism Review article and this guide written by Sarah Carr for the Education Writers Association.

Exercise judgment. People who attend protests are passionate, creative and colorful in expressing their opinions. Their language and signs may be explicit. Watch and listen for what might not meet your editorial standards.

Savor the experience. You are witnessing history and helping to record it. Enjoy!

 

 

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