Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A camera and microphone don't make you bulletproof

A few years ago when the Iraq war was heating up I got a call from a network guy wanting to know if I knew any photographers who wanted to work the story. "We're paying twenty grand a month," he said. You read that number right. The reason was obvious. You shoot some video, other people will probably shoot bullets at you.

Lara Logan's assault is a chilling reminder that we are often in harms way and don't even realize it.

Often times we show up with a camera and a mike in dicey neighborhoods and don't bat an eye. After all, even the bad guys want to be on TV more than they want to hurt us. They need us, right? I still often feel the same way. I've wearing a network logo and there's a big sat truck down the street, so who would possibly hurt me?

Well, we're just as vulnerable as the next guy, whether we're in Iraq, Egypt or just doing a local story. More than 100 journalists died covering the Iraq war, some, like Daniel Pearl, in horrifying fashion. Reporters get roughed up covering local stories as well.

When I was a rookie reporter I was assigned to do a story on tensions in a rough neighborhood. We arrived and got pats on the back from the people, who all wanted to be on television. We never felt like we were in danger. We shot the story, I did a standup, and we headed back to the station. When we were looking at the video our jaws dropped. We didn't notice what was going on in the background as I did the standup. Rocks and bottles were flying around. Our rose colored glasses hadn't seen it.

A few years ago a photog I know was shooting some crime video in a bad section of town. A cop came over to him and said, "Time to go." The photog explained he wasn't done. The cop said, "You don't understand. When we leave, you leave. It isn't safe here. And we're not leaving you here alone."

To borrow a catchphrase from the old TV show Hill Street Blues, "Let's be careful out there." We're not bulletproof.


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