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Yes Magazine: Documenting Protests While Protecting Protesters

Posted in Journalism, and Yes! Magazine

I made my return to Yes! Magazine with an article on how to protect activists when you’re covering protests or uprisings. It’s basically harm reduction for gonzo journalists, and I got to interview some of my favorite movement journos for the piece. 

Often working with just their phones, community journalists can shine  light on movements, expose police brutality, and help protect activists  from getting “disappeared” by an authoritarian government. At the same  time, the wrong tweet—or especially livestream—can leave people in the  street exposed to increased police surveillance.

From “snatch and grab” arrests in unmarked vans, to raids on the homes of perceived organizers, activists have good reason to be concerned. From Portland, Oregon, to Philadelphia, law enforcement acknowledge using livestreams and other social media to gather evidence.

As activists begin to face serious charges from the most recent wave  of protests, there’s also more attention on the risks posed by  inexperienced or unethical community journalists. Meanwhile, more people  are protesting for the first time, with some newly taking up the role  of community journalist. As such, a debate that’s been bubbling beneath  the surface since at least the Occupy movement and Arab Spring is  bursting to the forefront: the question of whether, and how, protests  should be documented in real time online.

“I don’t want to do the state’s work for them,” says Ash J,  a community journalist from New York. J’s been documenting protests on  Twitter since 2014. That was the year after he got his master’s degree  from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City  University of New York, and he was inspired by the resurgent movement  for Black lives.

J recalled a day in November 2019 where a member of the NYPD’s legal team, which advises police about  which protesters they can legally arrest, greeted him by his Twitter  handle. It was a clear reminder that the police are watching what he posts.

Read more on Yes! Magazine.

I’m continuing to talk to journalists and experienced organizers about this topic, and I hope to turn it into a zine as one of my upcoming projects. I’d love to hear your input about this too, especially if you’ve had positive or negative interactions with media at protests.

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