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Advice for reporters covering unrest during elections

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  • Journalistic coverage of demonstrations is very important, but it is not always very safe for journalists.
  • That is why in this article we bring you specific recommendations so that you can make your coverage as safe as possible.
  • This article is part of a special with recommendations for journalists on how to cover the elections by Chequeado, IJNet, ICFJ and Factchequeado.

During the 2020 U.S. presidential elections, violence erupted during the demonstrations of hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump, who took to the streets to protest what they called, without evidence, electoral fraud. 

On November 14, 2020, freelance journalist Talia Jane was using her Instagram account to cover a confrontation between around 200 pro-Trump and 80 anti-Trump protesters on the streets of Washington, D.C., when an individual struck her, causing her ear to bleed. On that day, thousands of Trump supporters took to the streets in several cities in the country and journalists suffered a wave of aggression like never before. Daniel Silva-Pinto, a Brazilian reporter for O Globo, was covering the Trump march when several protesters physically attacked him. That same night, Laura Jedeed, a freelance journalist reporting for her own newsletter at Substack, was verbally attacked and threatened by several demonstrators.

Those incidents signaled the beginning of a new era of physical insecurity for journalists in the U.S., an issue that colleagues in cities around the world like Johannesburg, Caracas, and Mexico City already experience.

It is important for journalists to be aware of the potential dangers and take steps to protect themselves while still reporting accurately and responsibly.

I gathered the following advice from my experience training journalists in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. In May 2023, I shared these recommendations with journalists in Zacatecas, a violence-ridden state in north-central Mexico. I had never thought, until recently, that these suggestions might also be valuable to journalists in the U.S. or other countries. I hope they are helpful.

  • Develop safety protocols for each possible scenario. Reporters should go out into the field with protocols established and agreed upon with their editor. If a freelance reporter lacks the support of a newsroom, they should work with other freelance and/or staff colleagues to create a common set of  safety procedures.
  • When possible, plan your coverage in detail and in advance. Ideally, this should involve a prior exploration of the location you will be covering. When journalists first arrive in an area, they should quickly inspect the surroundings and identify escape routes and places where they can seek protection in case violence breaks out. This inspection can also include identifying elevated areas where they can take photos or record videos.
  • Be aware of who the violent actors are and their political, religious, economic, or cultural motivations. Journalists need to know, in as much detail as possible, which actors will respond most aggressively to journalists and what that aggression may look like.
  • Decide what circumstances require the use of identification or distinctive clothing to signal that you are a journalist. Usually, it is better to clearly identify yourself as a member of the media. In some cases, however, this could attract more violence. No matter the case, identification documents should always be at hand and available to use when necessary.
  • Constant two-way communication with the newsroom is essential. Journalists in the field should make sure their mobile phones are fully charged and have their chargers on hand should they need them. Reporters can also carry an additional small phone to be used exclusively for making calls (this doesn’t have to be a smartphone). Avoid bringing a laptop to a potentially violent protest. Back up sensitive information and delete it from your phone if there is a risk of theft or loss during a violent demonstration. It is best if your device is encrypted to protect sensitive information.
  • Avoid contact with groups that promote violence, or security forces that are about to deploy crowd control measures. Whenever circumstances allow, always maintain a safe distance of at least 40 feet from those who threaten to use violence. It is crucial to avoid getting caught in a confrontation between rival protesters or between protesters and security forces.
  • Conduct live broadcasts in teams of two or more. This enables at least one person to pay attention to developments and potential safety threats in the area while the other(s) do the broadcast. Use telephoto lenses and, if there is violence, interrupt the broadcast if your safety is at risk.
  • Interviews with protesters or other actors should take place at street corners, with the interviewer’s back against a wall. The reporter should be able to have a full view of what is happening around them.
  • In crossfire situations, or if shots are fired at demonstrators, be prepared to duck, seek cover, assess whether you are actually hearing gunfire, and then identify the source and shooters. Journalists should follow these steps when rubber bullets are fired, too. These can also be lethal or cause severe damage if they hit the eyes.


This resource is part of a toolkit on elections reporting and how to spot mis- and disinformation, produced by IJNet in partnership with Chequeado and Factchequeado, and supported by WhatsApp.



Valoramos mucho la opinión de nuestra comunidad de lectores y siempre estamos a favor del debate y del intercambio. Por eso es importante para nosotros generar un espacio de respeto y cuidado, por lo que por favor tené en cuenta que no publicaremos comentarios con insultos, agresiones o mensajes de odio, desinformaciones que pudieran resultar peligrosas para otros, información personal, o promoción o venta de productos.

Muchas gracias

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