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Q&A: 4 Journalists On Their Experience Covering Protests

Covering a protest as a video journalist isn’t an easy task — it requires flexibility, objectivity, and good judgement. Often protests can…
Q&A: 4 Journalists On Their Experience Covering Protests
Protesters burn an American flag in front of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC after the decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. September 24th, 2014. PC Armando Gallardo.

Covering a protest as a video journalist isn’t an easy task — it requires flexibility, objectivity, and good judgement. Often protests can lead to journalists putting themselves at risk, whether it is getting arrested, being in a crowd getting tear-gassed, or worse. We reached out to members of the Storyhunter community who had covered the Black Lives Matter protests to find out what drives them to cover these protests again and again.

Storyhunter: What first prompted you to cover a Black Lives Matter protest?

Armando Gallardo: From the very beginning of my career, I’ve been very interested in social issues and how they work as a mirror — forcing us to look at ourselves and our current state as a society. I personally like to stay away from using ‘the BLM movement’ as a way to describe such protests as I believe it creates a divide between the protesters’ requests and what seems to be a systemic issue that affects African-Americans, Latinos, and other minorities. As such, ‘The BLM movement’ is trying to bring to the spotlight ‘an American issue,’ not just a black issue.

All that said, having the opportunity to document a movement that some have called ‘the civil rights movement of our times’ is really something special. We are telling a story which might end up in history books decades from now. Therefore, there’s more of a duty for us, journalists, to add to the narrative in an objective manner.

Gina Levy: I’m a news junkie. I start and end every day reading the news and have been following the Black Lives Matter movement since it sprung up a few years ago. I’m also very engaged politically, and excited and encouraged by the what I would call Civil Rights Movement 2.0 — this eruption of voices speaking out about systemic racism and sexism.

Branden shot this video for AJ+.

Branden Eastwood: The first protest I shot that was related to BLM was in Ferguson. This was, I think, as BLM was becoming the organization that we know today. I felt compelled to shoot the event, and others after, because of a sense of history. This felt like a continuation of the civil rights movement. The Civil Rights Movement was a watershed. When you read quotes from the likes of George Wallace, it’s hard to not think America was at one of it’s darker points, but also taking immense strides in living up to some its ideals.

SH: What are the challenges of filming a protest?

Armando: Instability. I’ve been covering protests since 2011 when ‘the Occupy movement’ first came to light. One thing I very quickly learned was how a protest can go from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds just because a person on either side makes a false move. Add to that, the animosity that either side might have with the press, changing laws that you have to abide by depending on the situation or state, confined spaces to work in, and trying to document each event in a creative manner all while fulfilling your duties and it makes for a very charged environment. Moreover, adrenaline rushes might be at full swing if a protest turns tense, and our duty as journalists shouldn’t be to let that dictate what to focus on. We have to be careful not to concentrate on issues that don’t really add to the narrative just because they are sensational.

Armando livestreamed this protest and march for AJ+.

During a recent protest in Charlotte, there was a very tense moment. The police had begun to enforce the curfew and were ready to move towards the protesters who were wearing bandanas soaked with vinegar to fight the potential tear gas or pepper spray the police were using. One woman was overwhelmed by all this and had a panic attack. Livestreamers and even some members of the press surrounded her-which caused her panic attack to get worse- all the while her face became the center of attention. I later heard a colleague, who had just been informed about the incident, ask “Was it good?” This example to me shows what we are up against sometimes and it’s a very clear challenge — knowing what is newsworthy while also filtering what is not and operating as human beings even to those on the other side of the lens. Needless to say, I didn’t film that incident.

Branden: Protests are difficult to shoot because they are completely unpredictable. You may end up sitting around watching a group of people walking in a circle for hours or you may be getting tear gassed. When something does happen, it often happens quickly and is an isolated event, like police grabbing a certain protestor and that can happen in a flash. When a lot is happening, you’re in a dangerous situation. You’ve got to consider your welling being and the importance of what you’re trying to capture.

David E. Carter reacts outside the circuit courthouse after Baltimore judge finds officer Caesar R. Goodson not guilty in the murder of Freddie Gray. “It was heartbreaking, but the sad reality is that me, many other community leaders, members of the community and people that live here, in Baltimore, were already prepared for that verdict,” said Carter. June 23rd, 2016. PC Armando Gallardo.

Jake Cook: One of the main challenges of filming protests is that, at some events, the amount of action going on can be overwhelming due to the lack of cameras to capture it all. A local rally with fifty people is easy enough to keep up with, but a riot with thousands of people present makes it extremely difficult to film everything that is going on. The risk of arrest is also a challenge. In order to get a great shot, you often have to put yourself in a situation that could result in your arrest. Unfortunately, the number of journalists getting arrested has skyrocketed in recent years.

SH: What equipment do you use to cover protests?

Gina: I filmed the protest on my iPhone. Fusion Media uses Slack for communicating and uploading. So I was shooting clips and then uploading them via Slack to Fusion as the protest was unfolding. The advantage of mobile video is that you can upload as you go, and it is small, lightweight, and inconspicuous. You do, however, need to have a phone with space (I now own a 128GB iPhone), extra batteries (I have a 3x Mophie battery extension), and mics to ensure sound quality (I own a Sennheiser wireless and a Rode boom for my iPhone that are terrific).

Gina shot this video for Fusion.

Branden: I have shot on my DSLR and I’ve shot on my cell phone. Initially, I was really all about getting the best quality clips, but some of the best material I’ve shot on my DSLR has never seen the light of day and the work on my phone has been pretty widely shared. And the entire point is to have people see what is taking place.

Armando: I’ve worked with both AJ+ and Fusion countless times to help them document the different protests with a mix of mobile rushes (iPhone video and DSLR photos), live streaming (Periscope for more abstract protests and Facebook Live for more poignant coverage), and video pieces (DSLR video). Sometimes the need has been for all of these different approaches to take place at the same protest, which creates a challenge on going by your gut feeling or the guidance of your editor to help you recognize what should be prioritized and when.

A few weeks ago, I was documenting a protest in front of the White House against the North Dakota Access Pipeline and was asked to do a Facebook Live, mobile rushes, and also get DSLR video footage. It’s those times that you wish to be an octopus.

How would you describe the experience of covering these protests?

Jake: I really enjoyed filming the event. I felt there was a lot of passion at it and people really came together in an amazing way to try to resolve the crisis they face each day.

Jake shot this video for AJ+.

Gina: The protest was fluid and on-the-move, so I had to be very flexible. The crowd was emotional, but most of the people had little information about what was going on and a lot of misinformation was being spread. So I had to constantly ask different police and protesters for information, and make a determination on the fly about what was going on and what should be filmed.

Armando: Documenting protests is more than just an assignment to me — I truly take my responsibility as a visual journalist as a duty that I need to fulfill. I was recently arrested in Charlotte, NC for carrying a gas mask and as soon as I was released I went out and continued covering the protest Not because that’s what my editors wanted; my editors were actually extremely supportive and understanding if I needed to take a break, but, to me, I had a responsibility to document what was happening and to tell the story of ‘the American experience.’

Branden: Protests pull you in a couple different directions. As a journalist and photographer, you want the shot, but the shot is often the product of an awful situation. It’s tough to grapple with that, especially as a freelancer who may not get to cover their rent if the shit does not hit the fan. There is inevitably a moment during slow situations where the thought creeps into your head ‘will something please happen.’ When you parse out what that means, it can make you wonder about yourself. When things do happen, there isn’t a ton of thinking, it’s just assessing: is this a good shot? Am I keeping myself safe?

SH: Would you film a protest again?

Armando: In a heartbeat.

Branden: Without a doubt, I’d do it again. Part of what draws me to this type of work is wanting to see history made. You get that opportunity when you film protests.

“Lord God these children who are now living without a father, help them, oh God/ Lord God traveling to school having to deal with the ridicule, God, help them, God/ For each and everybody that is hurting, help us God,” shouts Brandy Cook, as tears fall from her eyes during a prayer service organized by nearby churches. The group of six stopped by the memorial/shrine that had been erected soon after the police shot Keith L. Scott in an apartment complex in Charlotte’s suburbs. September 23rd, 2016. PC Armando Gallardo.

Armando Gallardo is a visual journalist who specializes in documentary and editorial visuals. Armando’s work has been published on CNN, The Huffington Post, AJ+, Devex, United Nations Development Programme, and other news outlets. For more on his work visit www.okaybokeh.com.

Gina Levy writes, produces, directs, shoots, and edits commercials, documentaries, fiction, reality TV, and video journalism. Her documentary “Foo­-Foo Dust,” which she shot, directed, and edited, was short-­listed for an Academy Award and screened at Sundance. Her video work for The New York Times was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning project for International Reporting. She has also worked as a director and shooter for the reality shows Bridezillas and Lake Life, for Morgan Spurlock’s production company Warrior Poets, and for the reality production company Back Roads Entertainment.

Branden Eastwood is a freelance multimedia journalist with a background in still photography, video production, and writing. He has been recognized for his work by the Society of Professional Journalists and his photography is represented by Redux Pictures. See more of his work at www.brandeneastwood.com.

Jake Cook is a freelance journalist just getting started with his career in videography and journalism. He’s interested in filming a wide variety of topics, such as the drug war, poverty, climate change, political activism, global affairs, corruption, police militarization, and more.



Originally published at storyhunter.com.