Yes, I put ” journalist” in quotes purposefully. That’s because a so-called citizen journalist is rarely a journalist at all. In my humble opinion and based on what I’ve witnessed with media training clients over the years, citizen journalists have zero training in actual journalism, and they have no intention of presenting both sides of any issue at all, which, of course, contradicts the basic intent of responsible journalism.
Case in point: Here in Arizona, a “journalism” team of two men from the rightwing political organization Turning Point USA confronted an Arizona State University Professor on campus, looking and sounding like a TV news crew. Surveillance video and footage posted by Turning Point USA revealed the men aggressively pursuing the professor and questioning his sexuality (LBGTQ) and his teaching methods, aligning with the mission of Turning Point USA.
And that is the danger with these so-called citizen journalists. They are not trained journalists, usually have no journalism experience or background, and maybe most importantly, they are not affiliated with an accredited news organization. Without these prerequisites, they are free to do as they please without concerns of slander or libel. Yes, scary stuff.
So, if confronted by someone with a camera you suspect is not a real member of the news media, what can you do? What should you do?
As an experienced media trainer and former TV journalist, I would recommend one of two tactics:
Say nothing, keep walking, and find a safe space.
The professor attempted this for a while, but understandably, he lost his patience and failed to find a safe space. If confronted, say nothing and get to your car, classroom, or somewhere where there are other people. Having witnesses around you will help your case, if needed, and provide additional safety. Additionally, if you can get to private property, and the offenders follow you, they can be charged with trespassing.
Pull out your phone and record THEM.
This is a more aggressive tactic but can be an effective means of neutralizing the offender’s plans, as knowing they are being recorded may force them to stay more professional and legal with their approach. Additionally, if a police report is filed, you have video evidence of what happened. But be advised pulling out your phone and recording the fake news crew could also trigger them to take your phone or worse. Proceed with caution.
If approached by anyone with a camera, always ask them who they are with. Real journalists will always identify themselves by name and organization. If they provide neither, they are a fake news team, and refer to my tactics above. Stay safe out there!
Rich Dubek is an Emmy award-winning TV news reporter and President of the Dubek Media Group, based in Tempe, Arizona. The Dubek Media Group specializes in video production, media training and on-camera coaching.