Covering Conflicts

With the events unfolding across the Middle East, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma contacted myself and several other journalists who have worked in conflict zones to better understand what you can do to cover volatile street protests without getting injured. Here are my comments and please look at this link to see some intelligent advice from a  few well-known, seasoned journalists who have collectively covered many of the most dangerous hot spots on the globe.

1) First find a safe place that gives a clear view of what is happening without putting you in the middle of the fighting. For example, go on top of a building above to analyze what is happening below. Take time to watch how the police/military   and crowds are reacting. Do they have live ammunition? Are events escalating quickly? Its important to understand what might happen and how to find a safe place to cover unfolding events.

2) Go with someone who knows the city well if you do not.  Know where there are some exit points. For example, don’t get caught in between a crowd and the police on a bridge. There is nowhere to escape if it turns violent. If it’s in a city, look for doorways and alleys to slip into if you need a quick escape.

3) Understand there is no reasoning with mobs. My own personal experience was in Palestine when a mob of angry young men thought I might be an agent of a foreign government. The only thing that saved me was because I had spent the day with a group of women in their home and they saw the angry mob and came to rescue me. Because they felt they knew me and trusted me, they got involved. If I had only showed up to cover this event and had known anyone, there is a good chance I would not have made it out alive. Mobs are angry, there is no reasoning with them and they often want to see blood in order to avenge someone.

4) Understand visual cliches and try to get past stereotypes in a fast-breaking story. For example, I will often try to find quieter ways of telling a violent, sensational story. The violence often overshadows the deeper message.