Journalism for Dummies

John Camp has been covering riots for forty years. Back when he started, you didn’t find many reporters hiding in violent mobs. Why, you could swing a cat—hell, a full-grown puma, if you were hardcore—and though you would be immediately jumped by a pile of incensed hooligans with fur allergies, you could pretty much rest easy that you hadn’t hit a journalist.

Times have changed, says Camp. “Now, there are two medias — the MSM, or the ‘Main Street Media,’ as they call it on the net”—or not, as the case may be—and the bloggers, or “citizen journalists,” or whatever they call themselves. Some of them sure dress weird. And they don’t know how to handle themselves. So our pal Mr. Camp has decided to take them in hand, and explain to these funny newbies how to be “a media.”

Some of his advice is unintentionally revealing. I was struck by this little gem:

Always — ALWAYS! — know where the Little Assholes are. Most people in protest mobs are pretty sincere, and don’t want to fight cops or break things. But there’s a subset of most any anti-war mob, the LAs, who are similar to the football hooligans in Britain. They are there to break things for their own entertainment. They don’t have much real interest in politics — they’re just LAs. You can pick them out because they wear fashionable bad-ass street dress — black or olive drab, boots or heavy running shoes, bandanas, hoodies. They tend to pierce themselves a lot. The dress is usually pretty worn, and they tend to cluster; so look around the crowd and when you see a sudden darkening of dress, you’ve found the LAs. You need to know where they are, because when they start breaking things, that’s your film-at-six.

So let’s recap. Most people in a protest are there to, y’know, protest, not to break laws or smash stuff. A few people aren’t interested in the protest; they’re there to smash stuff, using the protest as cover. Your job, as a journalist, is to walk straight past the great mass of protestors to focus on the little gang of apolitical thugs who just came for the smashy-smashy.

That, my friends, is how a protest with a few petty criminals hiding in the crowd, when filtered through the news, becomes a riot. And why some people are losing faith in the “Main Street Media.”

Helpful Bonus Tip: John Camp says, “Breaking glass or sudden gusts of screaming means good photography.” Also people getting injured. But good photography!