After Ferguson: Helpful Links For Journalists Covering Protests

NASHVILLE — This morning I’m joining Bob Priddy, Gregg Leslie and Robert Brooks on a panel about media rights following the treatment of some journalists in Ferguson, Mo. during the unrest that broke out mid-August.

by the second week of protests in ferguson, amnesty international observers were on the ground.
By the second week of protests in Ferguson, Amnesty International observers were on the ground.

Except for accidentally getting guns drawn on me, I was treated fairly and within my expectations, just as the longtime journalists on the ground there explained to Poynter’s Al Tompkins. But in the weeks media swarmed on the ground in the suburban St. Louis town, police detained, threatened and harassed reporters who were trying to gather the news.

Do we have a First Amendment right to news-gather? How should we prepare to cover a protest? Here are some helpful links:

CJR: Journalists: Know Your Rights

This is a great primer for journalists if you’re headed into a situation where you might have to verbally scrap with police.

The Washington Post: Yes, You Can Record the Police

Know before you go. “Courts have held that, as a general rule, individuals have a right to record law enforcement officers carrying out their duties in public spaces.” Here’s a 2012 letter from the Dept. of Justice backing that up. 

Medium: Dressed for Excess (Tips for covering civil unrest)

Journalist Quinn Norton has been to more of these protests-turned-riots than a lot of us, and she offers really practical tips if you’re headed into a similar situation.

Vox: If police treat journalists like that, imagine how they treat residents

Ultimately, this story is not about us, the press. As calm set in on the streets of Ferguson and the National Guard withdrew from the area, international press was still parachuting in, making the situation feel more and more like a spectacle. Al Jazeera America Ryan Schuessler detailed those weird days.

I Had A Really Weird Weekend In Nashville

this is the "delta island" that was in the middle of my hotel "lobby."
This is the “Delta Island” that was in the middle of the spectacle/hotel “lobby.”

I lost. In my increasingly tech-dependent existence, this was the weekend I completely disconnected from the physical world. It caused me great stress and a Saturday I’ll never get back. Here’s what happened:

I went to Nashville Friday night to give a Saturday morning training session for the Society of Professional Journalists, a swell group that I’m always happy to help out. I do a flying short course on the latest digital tools I like and use to make my journo-life easier, and it’s always fun to meet new people or go somewhere I haven’t gone before. Plus, Nashville is supposed to be a lot like Austin and my friend Val is down there, so off I went.

Things started out smoothly. Friday night, Val and I caught up over pork ribs and catfish and sweet tea before proceeding to a really swank bar next to a Sherwin Williams paint store. As it turns out, Sherwin Williams was a real theme of the weekend, since we meeting-goers were put up at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, which is the size of a planet, and so self-contained with plants, restaurants, bars and other amenities that you really could just live there — for years — and sustain yourself without ever leaving the premises. It’s like a cruise ship on land. Or a dystopian biosphere. And that’s where Sherwin Williams sales guys hold their big annual convention, so I had to walk over a fake bridge (is anything “real” at a Gaylord property?) of about 600 men in order to reach the path to my room. And there were many turns and escalators and gaudy CONCOURSES I had to get through before I actually FOUND my room, which really was like searching for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

really meaty catch-up time with val. and there's some taxidermy behind us, natch.
Really meaty catch-up time with Val. And there’s some taxidermy behind us, natch.

So the completely artificial lodging didn’t help in keeping me grounded to reality. (The training session did go well and was a highlight of my time there, as I loved the engaged participants.)

But then came my flight home, for which I arrived at my gate 40 minutes before takeoff. Which meant I was at least 15 minutes from boarding. I sat at the gate next to mine (C13) under a TV monitor, keeping myself busy by tweeting, texting Sudeep about stocks and watching news of the Columbia Mall shooting while wondering why my flight wasn’t boarding yet. I got up to wander around a store (where I saw a Taylor Swift album cover blanket, true story) and got back to the gate to ask what happened with my flight.

“It’s probably over Raleigh by now, it took off ten minutes ago.”

I was aghast. It was the only direct flight from Nashville to DC, and I cut my presentation short 15 minutes early just to make it to the airport on time. What. The. Fuck. Happened. Tears started streaming down my face as I asked for options (this is futile), and the gate agent did walk down the jet bridge just to be sure the plane was gone (yes), but responded by saying, “I don’t know ma’am, everyone else seemed to make the flight just fine.”

My only theory is that I was so lost in my texting and tweeting that I separated from the physical world and missed the FLIGHT THAT WAS BOARDING RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. I ended up having to wait another agonizing hour to get on a flight to Dallas — flying way west in order to connect to a flight back east — and not getting home until 11, missing my chance to see my darling daughter.

It is time to take a vacation from my devices.