Citizen Journalism - Tips and Tricks for Documenting Actions

By J K

There is no shortage of important things to report on/document as a socialist in present day New York City. At last month’s Media Working Group meeting, we heard from a few comrades about how to safely and effectively record video evidence and report on mass actions and protests. Whether you want to record a Nazi who has walked into a bar filled with socialists, or you want to share the stories of people protesting for the Bowery tenants’ right to return to their homes, we picked up some tips to share.

Keep these tips in mind when recording at a protest:

  1.  Don’t hold your phone out in front of you like a weapon, but closer to your body in order to avoid escalation with police. Landscape videos are always better.
  2. When photographing and taking video of fellow protesters be sure to get consent - but ...
  3. Don’t hesitate to record the cops. Always prepare to be arrested. While you are legally allowed to film cops, they do not like being subjected to surveillance and will intimidate you. If you are a white man, remember your privilege and consider those around you when escalating any situation involving police.  If you are risking arrest at a protest, you are coming from a position where you can afford to be arrested.
  4. Be sure to stay on public property (the sidewalk/street) while filming police so they cannot arrest you on trespassing charges.
  5. Since getting arrested is possible, be prepared by remembering these two things: do not bring anything with you that you cannot be arrested with (such as drugs or knives) and turn off any face or fingerprint unlocking on your phone (the police are permitted to physically force you to unlock your phone but cannot demand you enter your password).
  6. Consider the implications of your footage before uploading it to social media. Sometimes it is better to keep footage private until it can be reviewed by legal council, especially if it is documenting someone getting arrested.
  7. If a confrontation with the police begins to escalate, try to document the confrontation from as early on as possible. The more context available in the recording the better, including things like surrounding location and people.

When acting as a citizen journalist to document and amplify a message at a march or rally, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Instead of documenting an event entirely from your perspective, you can interview those around you with the simple question, “what brings you here.” Obviously, get consent (as best you can) before photographing or recording someone. We aren’t out here to doxx each other! Post documentation to your personal accounts in order to amplify the overall discussion.

  2. Mix up your content with quotes, photos, videos and other context for the march (what, where, why & when all in a single tweet), plus relevant historical facts and statistics. All this together is a “tweet storm”. Sharing a wide range of information at one event helps provide context and gives a stronger voice to the overall mission.

  3. Don’t be afraid of not having the prettiest photos or videos. Documentation of the event from the “everyday” attendees is in many ways way more convincing to other people and more interesting than the sleek, cut content of the organizations involved.

  4. Respond to your own tweets with updates to boost the whole chain.

  5. Sign roundups are popular and fun to put together.

  6. Be aware of the tone of the event (a vigil vs a march) and adjust your actions as needed. Always consider the question: “am I uplifting the voice or exploiting the image?”

  7. If your video goes viral and a licensing company reaches out to you about licensing your footage for news outlets, you have a right to ask them who their clients are and “blacklist” usage by specific outlets (e.g. Fox News ).

If you’re uncomfortable posting to your own account, send images and videos to a central one like NYC-DSA so they can share your documentation anonymously. You can DM the account or send your pictures and video to social@socialists.nyc.

So pick up those phones (and pitchforks) and let’s make Nazis scared again! With effective citizen journalism and smart reporting by members and comrades at large, we can take down this fascist, oppressive system.