Covering a protest/rally

A local AFSME union is holding a rally/protest today in Altgeld Hall. Events such as this are fairly common, and there’s a good chance any of you could be drafted to cover one at a moment’s notice. Here are some tips:

How to cover a protest/rally

  1. Do your homework ahead of time
    1. Read past coverage so you are up to speed with what’s going on. You want to be able to ask the right questions. You’re not going to want to embarrass yourself by being clueless at the event. Notice who we’ve interviewed as sources in case we want to interview them again for this story.
    2. Do some pre-interviewing if necessary. If there’s a leader or official you know you’re going to want to quote, it might be too chaotic to get a quote in the midst of the event. If you didn’t talk to them ahead of time or can’t talk to them during the event, give them a head’s up that you’ll be contacting them shortly after it’s over and ask if there’s a good time for you to call (an actual time on the clock like 4:45 — not “afterward” or “when you have a second.”)
    3. Don’t forget “the other side.” In the case of the union rally, don’t forget to get comment from the administration. You can try to do this in a pre-interview about the topic. If you can’t, get them after the event.
    4. We often hear about these things just before they happen, so you might not have a chance to do work in advance. This is why it’s super important you read the paper and stay informed every day.
  2. At the event
    1. Bring your camera and take photos. Get a scene-setting photo of the event as a whole and then focus on individual points of interest: a protest sign, people fighting, people praying, people chanting. If there’s a ringleader directing activity, make sure to get that person’s photo and name. Try to get that person’s contact info if you can’t talk to them in the moment.
    2. Can we get audio/video?
    3. Use your senses. What do you hear? Write it down. You won’t remember it. What do you see? Write it down. You won’t remember it. Get as much detail from your senses as possible so you can re-create the scene and put the reader there.
    4. Always estimate the crowd size.
    5. Talk to attendees. Get name and hometown and other relevant information specific to the event (if it’s a union rally, ask where they work, what their job is and what union they belong to. Don’t assume they belong to the union that is the subject of the rally. It could be a sympathetic union supporter.) If possible, get the phone numbers of everyone you talk with so you can call them back as you’re writing your story. You might have to double-check something with them or have a question that didn’t occur to you at the time.
    6. Whatever you do, don’t become part of the event/news. Don’t share your opinion, even if you’re sympathetic. Don’t argue.
    7. If you’re in a public space, you have a right to be there. Simply state that you have a legal right to be there and drop it. Continue to do your job even if they yell and scream and are in your face.
    8. Don’t turn anything (cameras, notes, phones) over to the police until and unless they have a warrant.

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