Making News

Instead of Covering It

>> One morning I went out with a women reporter to do a follow-up story on a major racial disturbance that had taken place at a trailer park. The violence that had erupted a few days earlier had settled down and the idea was to do a story on the underlying issues.

We arrived in a van clearly marked with our TV station's call letters. That was our first mistake.

The second mistake was starting to talk with people from one side of the issue  -- which ticked off the other side.  (We had planned, of course, to talk to both sides.)

>> Within a few minutes everyone seemed to recognize the opportunity to "make news" and they came streaming out into the street.

Clashes started breaking out, but this time we were in the middle of it all.

Now, instead of covering news, we were making it!

The whole thing was broken up by the police. (We don't know who called them, but we'll be eternally grateful.)

>>Lessons learned:

    1. Never cover a story of this type in vehicles marked with your TV station's call letters.  (You may have noticed most metropolitan TV stations now use unmarked vans.)

    2. In volatile situations try to meet the people you want to talk to out of sight of opposing factions.

    3. Let police know if you plan to go into an unfriendly or volatile area.  If you can't do that, have the nearest police station on your speed dial. (Unfortunately, this incident took place before there were cell phones.)

    4. And keep in mind this option: by using one of today's small, high-quality, digital video cameras, and dressing and acting like "just some common Joe with a video camera," it's sometimes possible to cover things without calling attention to yourself.

-Ron Whittaker

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