Covering the news during the COVID-19 outbreak can be challenging enough for members of the print and broadcast media. But with demonstrations taking place in many U.S. cities and journalists being arrested while on camera, the job of pulling together facts and reporting them in a clear manner under deadline pressure is even more difficult, even for seasoned news reporters.
Recently, Professor of Broadcast and Digital Journalism Shelvia Dancy hosted a panel discussion among journalists who learned their craft at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School—A.J. Lagoe, Liz Sawyer, Norman Seawright and Cheryl Wills. Dancy met with us to share insights she gained from these alumni who have been immersed in the challenge of covering protests during the pandemic.
Is there a “best practice” for journalists to follow when covering large-scale demonstrations/events where there are many people?
Given that the nation is still in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic, wearing a mask is at the top of the best practice priority list for all journalists right now.
Documenting everything is also critical for journalists. Broadcasters have the luxury of a camera that can record what is said to them, and what is done to them, as they’re on the job. That’s incredibly important in this day and age.
And the reality of covering protests is that journalists are subject to the same tear gas and rubber bullets as protesters, so they need to keep that in mind when covering these events. I’ve seen journalists tweet pictures of their injuries—bruises, even damaged eyeballs. If journalists can get their hands on anything that can protect them from such attacks, that should be a priority too.
Are you hearing concerns from students regarding covering large scale gatherings?
Many students have questions about how to do the job of a journalist and remain safe. They’re especially concerned about how to get interviews while maintaining social distancing, and they’re figuring out ways to do both. Since that’s a reality that even professional journalists face, I think it is good for them to start thinking of these things now. This is a new norm for students, and it is likely the norm they’ll face when they graduate and enter the workforce.
Is this a personal decision every journalist must make, using proper coverage while staying safe?
I do think this is a personal decision for individual journalists. Everyone has a different comfort level with taking risks while on the job. People also have different personal circumstances to take into consideration—for example, some have elderly people or young children in their household. All of that dictates how much risk a person is willing to take—or even should take—for the sake of a story.
Is there anything you’ve noticed that’s missing from coverage of this issue in terms of reporters covering the news/protests and staying safe?
I’d be interested in learning more about access to protective equipment, even something as simple as masks. I think people think masks are universal and free—but masks are not always free, or sold and available in every neighborhood.