Recap: Reporting in the Age of Alternative Facts conference

Were were honored to participate in the conference at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  The Department of Journalism sponsored an amazing one-day conference, free and open to the public, and it organized several workshops, one of which we attended as a panelist.

The panel was "Reporting Under Trump: Assessing Risk on America's Front Line."  We presented on reporting in civil unrest and riot conditions at home and abroad, but mostly here in America in urban environments.

We also learned of two books from two authors, one published and one upcoming this autumn: Megafire and The Red Market.

Discussion

The two best things to come from conferences are insight and judgment, important areas in mental status examination in psychology too, which is relevant to current events and a common theme running through conferences nationwide, considering interest in political psychology and specific traits of leaders.

For our purposes, we must balance ethics in intelligence with ethics in journalism, for both freelance reporters and those working under newsrooms and news managers.  To do this, we begin planning what works in private sector security operations and then adjust as needed for reporting conditions.  Along the way, the primary insights are about ethics, and then judgments about proposals that fit journalism ethics.

For example, lying, cheating, stealing, and carrying weapons does not fit in news organization culture, law, or internal rules and regulations, and in terms of manipulation, there are gray areas that employers would and would not tolerate.  In hostile zones abroad, journalists generally do not carry firearms on assignment.  On the other hand, a freelance reporter traveling to southern Texas along the border may elect, on or off duty, to carry non-lethal weapons such as pepper spray or handheld taser.  Personally, we do not travel south of El Paso without handguns and rifles, and often reporters hire armed security details to counter kidnapping and targeted killing threats.  On the Mexico side, this becomes an important decision.

In our panel, we learned that some measures during detainment and arrest, which we outlined for riot conditions, do not work in news organizations, but may be okay for freelance, depending on personal journalism ethics.  In traditional manipulation style, we suggested that reporters snap photographs of protestors and have SD cards ready to bargain with police if arrested.  A more subtle and less egregious tactic is arranging public-relations-worthy photographs with police, e.g., having a colleague shake hands with officer, exchange pleasantries, or smile and agree on a topic.  When in custody, requesting public relations officer and exchanging photographs for release is possible.

Yet, with this tactic, the key is building rapport, and we emphasized the importance of social interaction, developing relationships, and attending press briefings during riots to learn names, get recognized, and know who has decision-making powers.  If detained, asking for officers by name is a nice card to have.  Study police radio traffic, learn personalities of dispatchers, and get a sense of culture of authorities involved in riot control.  With no connections, sitting in a van with protestors waiting for processing will take hours.  Having clear credentials is also important, as protestors often fabricate credentials and pose as journalists.

Finally, discussion lead us to understand that traditional press activities in U.S. cities direct that photographers and videographers need access to dangerous spots to achieve goals, and often that posturing requires the courage and determination to document activities when challenged, harassed, and in danger of projectiles and other blunt forces like batons and hands and fists.  We saw both in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and we continue to witness nationwide.  In the "no mans land" between riot police lines and protestor lines, reporters are the most vulnerable.  Yet, some of the best photographs come from this area.  What we do is assess threats, and recipients may then make decisions based on good insight and good judgment.  We find the conversation at conferences helps greatly for our insight and judgment too.  Thank you to UC Boulder and the Journalism faculty for working with us.