NEW YORK, NY / ACCESSWIRE / April 26, 2022 / Since February 24th, at least seven journalists have been killed while covering the war in Ukraine. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), this brings the total of journalists killed up to 1,440 since 1992. Reporting from war zones is an incredibly dangerous undertaking. The protections and restrictions in place are never a guarantee of safety, and journalists enter hotspots fully aware of this reality.
Every time a journalist steps outside the safety of the newsroom to cover a story live, they potentially place themselves in the middle of great anger, resentment, and turmoil. The subjects they're covering often don't discriminate their tactics based on who is carrying a press pass and who is not. These tragic deaths are a reminder of the dangers journalists face while doing their jobs.
However, these hazards are not limited to foreign wars. David Friend, a news executive with over 40 years of experience in TV news and almost three decades in local TV news, shares his thoughts on the mounting risks journalists face even here in the U.S., and offers important learnings for news producers to consider when sending their teams to the scene to cover unfolding events.
David Friend spent 14 years in charge of one of the largest local TV news operations in New York City. In this role, he also advised news departments in a dozen other cities, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis.
"News reporters are courageous, and they understand the need to cover conflict, but their news managers have to have their backs. The safety of their team should be their most important concern," says David Friend.
During his career, David Friend dealt with a litany of precarious situations: from reporters and photographers being held up at gunpoint to crews having their equipment stolen.
In an all too familiar vein, 2020 saw streets within American cities turn into battlegrounds in the wake of George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis, and in the aftermath of several other high profile killings of unarmed black men and women. Protests across several major cities constantly threatened to become riots, and police forces responded in kind, creating a cycle of escalation that resulted in the needless destruction of property and reckless injury to those involved and bystanders alike. Reporters were right in the middle of it all, keeping cameras rolling even as tear gas flooded the screen to make sure those at home understood the gravity of the situation.
The chaos resulting from this escalation worried Mr. Friend. "Newsrooms must create coverage plans that serve their viewers but also keep their people safe," he says.
The memory of a young reporter and her photojournalist, who were shot and killed in Roanoke, Virginia while conducting a live interview in 2015, was etched on David Friend's mind as the situation on the streets reached a critical level. The rate of physical attacks on reporters spiked in 2020. Some members of the press were targeted, threatened, and harassed by protestors. Others were victims of "non-lethal options" employed by law enforcement. One photojournalist went blind in one eye after being shot in the face with a foam bullet. Many others were roughly, and sometimes violently, arrested despite holding clear press credentials.
"Experts will tell you that danger can come from anywhere," David Friend says. "It can come from a stray bullet fired from an illegal gun. It can come from a freed felon looking for his next victim or 15 minutes of infamy."
During his long TV news career, David Friend was often asked what kept him up at night. "What preyed on my mind the most," Mr. Friend says, "was that something would happen to one of our journalists. What kept me up at night was the fear that something would happen to one of my people that I could have prevented."
He had a hard and fast rule, articulated many times over. "No story is worth it. No story is worth a journalist getting hurt or worse. And no journalist should be criticized if they pull up stakes, and get the hell out of a dangerous location. They shouldn't have to ask permission."
"What worries me now is the increasingly antagonistic view the public has toward journalists." remarks David Friend. "I'm watching the events unfolding in Ukraine and thinking about danger again. Danger doesn't have to come from the threat of Russian bombs. Danger can come from seemingly "normal" people who have been stirred up by reckless politicians demonizing journalists and their work."
David Friend emphasizes the need for local TV news managers to be laser focused on the safety of their people. He worries that press credentials, a microphone and a large, easily identifiable, camera aren't protection enough anymore. "Job one for news managers is to keep their people safe and secure," Mr. Friend says.
Reiterating the importance of focus and diligence for managers with reporters in the field both domestically and abroad, David Friend expressed his mourning of the deaths of those courageous journalists in Ukraine, and his prayers for the safe return of the countless others who continue to do important and amazing work while under fire.
SOURCE: Cambridge Global
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