#FreelanceHacks — top tips on covering protests safely

Throughout this summer, there has been a heightened intensity of protests which have swiftly turned violent. Demonstrations in the US around police shootings, presidential elections in Belarus and in Lebanon after the port explosion have attracted journalists to help tell the story.

However, these events provide major challenges for safety and complexity during coverage.

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HackPack gathered for an online #FreelanceHacks discussion with speakers Anna Ignatenko and Juan Cortes to discuss how you can stay safe while in the thick of protests. Here are the key lessons we learned:

Understand the Protestors. Do they have a history of violence at their events? Bring the corresponding equipment. What are their key colors and be sure NOT to wear similar clothing. Are they violent or empathetic toward journalists?

Juan says that at ANTIFA protests, never wear black and based upon a specific group’s empathy toward journalists, he may decide to not demonstrate he’s a journalist.

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Understand the Police. What response have police or authorities usually taken during similar protests? Are they violent or empathetic to journalists?

In Russia, Anna suggests to not approach police officers. Best case scenario they don’t give you a quote, worse case scenario you end up in the back of a police car.

Know the Site. Visit the protest location a day in advance. Identify where the police are located, where the barriers will be, where the main stage will be and what exits there are. If you can’t physically visit the site, do a street view on Google.Maps to virtually walk the path.

Juan suggests to look for key areas of reference. Specific buildings, street corners, statues. If tear gas or rubber bullets are fired, you become disoriented and need reference points to help find your exit

WIFI Isn’t Universal. At protests everyone is uploading images to social media, sending messages and doing lives. In some cases, the government plays a role in influencing telecom companies and you won’t have internet access.

Anna suggests downloading a map of the location and everything you may need. Also use good ol’ fashioned SMS to communicate with your office. And don’t forget paper and pen. Firechat is also a good resource for communication without wifi.

Have a Buddy. The best solution is to have a fellow teammate or fixer on-site with you. Someone who can stay within eye’s distance to know immediate if something has happened to you.

Juan suggests that if you’re a freelancer without teammates, then coordinate with fellow freelancers and create a plan for arriving and leaving. Be each other’s eyes. If one of you are detained or hurt, it’s important there is an immediate response.

Food. Be sure you bring snacks and water with you. You don’t know how the protest will end. It may continue through the night or you may be arrested.

Anna suggests that while you are doing recon, then identify where cafes are at, so you can find a place to rest, a stable wifi connection and most importantly, FOOD.

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Credentials Dumby. Bring your press card and have it VISIBLE on your body. Consider what other documentation or clear signs you can have.

Anna says that in Russia the MVD (police) have coordinated with publications to provide official blue press vests. However, nothing beats a signature and a stamp. Carry with you a paper signed and stamped by your publication that says you are reporting on that specific protest and includes your passport number and editor’s phone number.

Juan highlighted that you need to be flexible. He uses a Velcro press badge on his shirt that can be removed based on the situation and his lanyard around his neck is an easy click buckle, so if someone pulls it, he won’t be choked.

At the protest. Protests are like rivers and there is a certain flow in the center. Make a clear plan of how much you need to be in the center for footage and images. Beyond that, stay to the edges of the stream of people. Police fire tear gas into the center and you can get intensively squeezed in the center.

Anna also suggests that you find a raised area or stairs. This way you are above the crowd for good shots, can see the key leaders and avoid aggressive police and protesters.

Take Care of Yourself. No story is worth your life. But beyond your physical care, be concerned for your psychological well-being too. You can see a lot of rough things at protests.

Anna saw 12 and 13-year olds beaten by the police, Juan has seen militias firing guns at crowds in rural areas. These actions can have a major effect on you, so think about your mental safety too.

Want more? Watch the entire discussion.

Or join us for the next #FreelanceHacks — Earn more by finding and approaching the right clients

Every other Tuesday at 7pm CET, we gather 2–3 great experts to share specific ways that freelancers can grow professionally, care for their own safety and earn more revenues.

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