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Occupy KC protest march, October 2011.

Occupy KC protest march, October 2011.

Who defines or labels paparazzi?

Much of the following came from comments I posted on social media in conversations about the media and their coverage of the recent protests at the University of Missouri.

I’ve covered events similar to this in the past. They were not quite the same, but then, none ever are. Public spaces are public spaces. No individual in a public space should or can have an expectation of privacy. And, I have a somewhat sympathetic understanding of what the photographer covering the event at the University of Missouri was going through. Had I been there in the same situation I would have probably made some of the same points.

I have been swept into a large media “scrum” along with several hundred other photographers and reporters running to cover national political figures. I have been handled and herded by media flacks working for political and other public figures. I have covered protests and marches – in the middle of the action and observing from the periphery.

The thing is, those protesters were putting themselves out there, and most probably this was their first experience as public figures in the news. Having also been through that side of the story in the past I fully understand the stress, anxiety and fears they faced and have had to address and maybe overcome.

We should expect our media to understand the differences among vulnerable individuals, public figures who are hardened to media intrusion, and fast breaking news.

[As an aside, the protesters reflected on what they had done in limiting or denying media access and within twenty-four hours exhibited their capacity to process what they had learned quickly and adapt, in contrast with the administrators they sought to have removed.]

Some of the earliest reports I read about the relationship of the protesters with the media came from a social media comment by a representative of a local news outlet stating that the protesters were only talking to national media. That was whining. Uh, no one under any circumstances whatsoever has any obligation to talk to the media or sit for photographs. Then again, if you’re doing something in a public space the media can report on and photograph on what you’re doing. It’s the media’s job to understand how without becoming part of the story, not the protesters’.

If I am denied proximate access for photos I might step back and get images from a distance. That’s not to say I am particularly pleased about the denial of access, but I have to find a solution which enables me to get the story and the image. That’s why long telephoto lenses were invented (in one of the many videos of the event I noted the photographer appeared to have a 200 mm lens on one of his cameras).

I endeavor to stay out of people’s faces when I photograph them. I have placed my digital audio recorders in front of people who were speaking to the press. I don’t do so if someone doesn’t talk to the media (they’re not talking, right?). [As another aside, if you don’t want the media to report on what you said don’t talk to them. It’s that simple.]

I would note that one of the best photos of the protest area with the ring of students keeping the press out was a wide shot taken from a distance. It told the story quite well. The protest covered a big area – there were plenty of potential images which could tell the story without inserting oneself into the middle. Sometimes you can get the picture from the edge. Sometimes

The trick is knowing when and understanding where you are in the mix. Again, no two situations are ever alike.

The antidote to free speech with which you do not agree is more free speech. And if we’re there we’ll try to cover it.


Proposition 8 rally in Kansas City (November 16, 2008)

A hate group, the First Amendment, and a funeral in a small town( November 23, 2010)

Occupy Kansas City: rally and march from Ilus Davis Park, part 2 (October 31, 2011)