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Best Practices for Reporters Covering Unrest

Online resources provide guidance for safety and good journalism

Damage to bulletproof glass at an entrance of the U.S. Capitol January 7, 2021 (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

For reporters and stations covering civil unrest, the Minnesota Broadcasters Association shared links to several helpful resources.

“It goes without saying that journalists and broadcasters are in the front line,” the association wrote in an email to members. “Tensions are expected to rise leading up to and through the inauguration.”

Most if not all of the resources below were published prior to the events of last week.

-Poynter published “23 guidelines for journalists to safely cover protests” last June as demonstrators protested police brutality and the death of George Floyd. Sample advice: Your attitude is crucial; clearly identify yourself; have a constantly updated escape route; and consider hiring your own security.

-Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers tips for both before and during protests, including researching riot control tactics for the area ahead of time; having a plan in case you get “kettled” along with protestors; avoid breaking the law yourself; and how to handle police seizures of equipment.

-The RTDNA offers guidelines for journalistic best practices, such as being skeptical of crowd estimates and not using words like protester and rioter interchangeably. “Protest can be legal or not. Rioting is by definition a crime.”

-The National Association of Broadcasters said last summer that it was “gravely concerned about recent violence against journalists who are legally covering the protests taking place across the nation.” The NAB posted a lengthy list of relevant resources that touch on topics like best practices for covering crises on Twitter;  guidelines for journalist arrests; a protest curfew order tracker; and a verification handbook for covering user-generated content during emergencies.

[Related: “How WTOP Covered the Assault on the Capitol”]