How to Cover a Protest

  • File Photo from a previous protest. Photo Shaun Michaud

In anticipation of what student and labour unions have dubbed “l’automne chaud,” The Link has assembled this guide on how to report on protests in this age of Facebook news, hashtags and live streaming.

PREPARING FOR THE PROTEST

Basic question first: what’s the weather forecast? If you end up being underdressed in the cold, your shaky hands won’t be very useful for filming or photography. If it’s raining, do you really want to bring your shiny new Canon or Nikon out, versus a cheaper point and shoot? Consider wisely! Also, I would recommend buying a portable battery pack to charge your mobile devices. They’re generally cheap (under $50), and few things suck more than having your phone die at a protest—trust me.

And don’t forget snacks and water! Believe me, when an anti-­austerity march loops back onto St. ­Laurent for the third time in three hours, you’ll be glad you packed some granola bars and a water bottle.

COVERING THE PROTEST

When it comes to actually reporting at the scene of protest, it’s best to decide early on what medium you’d like to focus on. Photography? Video? Live tweeting? Of course you could do a bit of everything, but if you’re new to the protest beat, I would recommend concentrating on one method of reporting. Learn to recognize and anticipate the ebbs and flows of a protest (crowd movement, police movement etc.) without the added distraction of handling three or four gadgets at the same time.

This can also be a safety concern. You should be as aware of your surroundings as possible during a protest, lest you get knocked over by a running crowd, or bump into an amped-up riot cop. When starting out, you should KISS: keep it simple, señor(ita). Also, be specific when tweeting. Avoid something like “the crowd has stopped on street X.”

Think about the questions that might pop into a reader’s mind when they read that: Did the whole crowd stop, or just a smaller group? Why did they stop? What are they doing there? How are the police responding? 140 characters isn’t a lot, but it should be enough to answer some, if not all of these questions.

Anticipate questions before they’re asked! As with most things, this gets easier with practice. Finally, do your best to be civil and courteous. You’re not there to make a stand or get into arguments. If a police officer asks you to move, try to fight the instinct to talk back. If a protester tells you not to film their face, don’t respond by shoving a camera right up to their nose.

You might lose a few battles this way, but it allows you to keep fighting the war.

AFTER THE PROTEST

Regardless of the medium you chose, try to organize your thoughts before you put together your article, video etc. When you get home, try telling a family member, partner or roommate what happened at the event in under a minute. It’ll allow you to recollect the important bits while they’re still fresh in your mind.

As for tools of the trade, here are a few useful apps/programs for producing content:

­GOOGLE PHOTOS APP

Automatically uploads your phone’s photos and videos to the cloud when you connect to WiFi, for easy access on a computer.

­USTREAM APP

Lets you live stream from a phone for free, and you can upload your archives to YouTube afterwards.

­­ADOBE PREMIERE + PHOTOSHOP ELEMENTS

Lower cost tools for video and photo editing. Powerful, fairly easy to use and can be bought in a bundle for under $200.

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