The War against Television Reporters
Prato, Lou, American Journalism Review
Covering news for local television is becoming hazardous. Reporters and camera crews are encountering an increasingly hostile public, and physical threats are becoming routine.
"We always thought we were like the Red Cross," says Jeff Wald, news director at KCOP in Los Angeles. "We were like a neutral party, welcomed by all sides. Not any more. Now, there's a lot of distrust."
Other news directors generally agree. "We are no longer the friendly ally of the general public," says Loren Tobia at KMTV in Omaha. "Our crews face situations every day that are threatening and sometimes dangerous. They get screamed at a lot and sometimes there's some pushing and shoving."
Peter Neumann of WEAR in Pensacola, Florida, says news sources are more aggressive than they were years ago. "People are more willing to grab the camera lens or jostle and push a reporter if they don't like something," he says.
These situations can sometimes turn violent. In suburban Louisville in March 1988 a car dealer became enraged when a WHAS news team began taping scenes of his lot. The dealer rushed across the street and slugged the reporter and cameraman, knocking the camera to the ground. The dealer then picked up a microphone and beat the cameraman with it.
Several New York TV crews were attacked while coveting a disturbance in Brooklyn in May 1990. A reporter from WPIX was hurt and a crew from WABC was nearly electrocuted.
"Our reporter, Ed Miller, was hit by a brick or a rock and had to have plastic surgery," recalls John Corporon, news director at WPIX. "A Channel 7 microwave truck hit a high tension line while trying to get out of there .... It's a miracle no one was killed.
"But we have problems nearly every day," he adds. Last "year we went into Washington Heights to cover a story and a group of rowdies came at the crew, pulled knives and wanted to take the equipment."
Corporon now hires bodyguards to escort his crews to areas where there might be trouble. But he and other news directors say they also give more discretion to their staff to leave potentially dangerous situations. "We ask them to try and check with the assignment desk first," he says, "but if they can't, just come out."
Omaha's Tobia has a similar policy. "Our crews make the call if they feel they are in danger," he says. "No questions asked."
Tom Doerr of WPLG in Miami recalls the day his crew pulled out in the middle of a live report on his newscast. They were in the Liberty City area trying to get public reaction to the trial of a police officer charged with killing a young black man. …