Tag Archives: Baltimore

Off the page: Dan Archer on how ‘immersive journalism’ is changing the face of national security reporting

This image is a screenshot from Dan Archer's Ferguson Firsthand piece. (Dan Archer/Courtesy)

This image is a screenshot from Dan Archer’s Ferguson Firsthand piece. (Dan Archer/Courtesy)

In the course of covering national security, there may be moments when words will seemingly come up short — scenes where descriptions rooted in paper and ink (or in pixels on a screen) will feel insufficient to put readers in the depth of a moment.

The color of the clouds created by smoke and gas suspended in the air during a riot. The timbre of a witness’ cries after a shooting. The claustrophobia of a crowded courtroom.

The pressure to capture the multi-sensory essence of a story might be a challenge for print reporters, but moments like these are the stuff one journalist’s reporting dreams are made on.

Dan Archer.

Archer is a transmedia journalist who works as a Reynold’s Fellow at the Missouri School of Journalism’s Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and a graphic journalist at Empathetic Media.

His style of domestic civil rights and national security reportage combines elements such as video game platforms, comic-book-style editorial cartooning, data and other media elements into what he calls “immersive journalism” to give audiences greater control of how they navigate the news and to let them explore stories from multiple points of view.

One such endeavor is a comic recreation of eyewitness testimonies from the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, created for Fusion.  The Instagram image below is a snapshot from the project, which can be viewed here.

Another was his so-called “sketchbook” from the streets of Baltimore’s Sandtown neighborhood, where Freddie Gray was arrested and later died in Baltimore Police custody.

But perhaps his most well-known project — and one which, according to Archer, most accurately reflects his current focus on transmedia (versus merely graphic) journalism — was the “virtual-reality experience” he built which allows users to explore the Michael Brown shooting crime scene from the perspectives of multiple witnesses and incorporates primary documents, witness testimony, photo-based scene reconstruction, data visualization and more.

The Medill National Security Journalism Initiative spoke to Archer via Skype to get the story behind his stories and insight into the potential for new media to change the face of national security reporting.

According to Archer, the graphic side of transmedia reporting can catch people off guard initially, but actually allows for greater ease of access to subjects — especially ones who might otherwise be scared off by cameras.

He also said it helps keep the stories focused on their subjects, rather than on the journalist’s experience while trying to report them out (i.e. riot coverage that focuses on what’s happening to a reporter vs. what’s motivating the crowd to be there in the first place). He expressed a discomfort with this “ego journalism,” but was careful to call out the practice vs. its media practitioners.

But he said that transmedia journalism does little to make government and law-enforcement officials more comfortable in interviews and depictions than more traditional forms of reporting would, especially in the age of body cameras and a growing demand for increased police accountability.

Archer said that immersive reporting isn’t that big of a departure from graphic journalism.  Rather, it allows aspects of 2-D reporting to be expanded into further dimensions (such as sound or, in the case of versions of his Ferguson reconstruction designed for virtual-reality consoles, three-dimensional navigation and spatial understanding).

He said diving into the design of such storytelling environments isn’t intensely complicated due to the availability of game engines (some of which are freely available) and YouTube tutorials.

His advice for more traditional print journalists?

Throw orthodoxy out the window, get a handle on emerging interactive story tools and set out to discover fresh approaches to building narratives — especially when it comes to topics that may be so ubiquitous that audiences have tuned out their media coverage.

Guard operations center advises troops in Baltimore

BALTIMORE — As the third night of Baltimore’s curfew set in on Thursday, the Maryland National Guard stood watch over an empty City Hall. Their real action, however, took place 31 miles away at the Joint Operations Command in Adelphi, Maryland.

There, Joint Task Force Maryland had gone online to guide all National Guard operations in the state.

At 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, the makeshift operations center was activated in a converted gymnasium at the Maryland National Guard Center to coordinate the approximately 2,000 soldiers streaming into the city from across Maryland, explained Capt. Patrick Elliot, who oversees day operations at the JOC.

In an interview Thursday evening, Elliot described JTF Maryland’s role in responding to the civil unrest in Baltimore.

“Anytime civilian assets are unable to address a problem, they call us in,” Elliot said. “Our job is to respond to and direct all Army assets in the state of Maryland.”

On Monday evening, the Maryland National Guard received Gov. Larry Hogan’s call to assist city and state police in responding to the violent protests that engulfed Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray.

“We rehearse this every year, if not every couple months, on top of all the other Army [training] requirements” Elliott said. “I think it shows in the quick response that we were able to put on the ground to support the governor.”

The JOC, staffed by the 58th Troop Command, receives missions from the Maryland State Police through liaison officers to provide resources the police lack, logistical or transportation support and requests for extra forces to bolster security throughout Baltimore.

“In this type of sustained operations, there’s a lot that happens behind the scenes in order to support the troops that are out there,” Elliot said.

The mission has thus far proved successful, according to Elliot. The JOC has been able to provide continuous guidance on how to respond to conflict, how and when to use force, and what are appropriate escalation and de-escalation tactics.

“As a troop on the ground, it’s good to know that at the end of the day, you’re helping to protect the community,” Elliot said.

“The soldiers know that they’re protecting lives and property in Baltimore.”

Published in conjunction with Military Times Logo

Thousands march in support of Freddie Gray in Baltimore

BALTIMORE — Thousands of protesters – led by students – marched Wednesday from Baltimore City Hall to Penn train station calling for justice for Freddie Gary, who died from a severe spine injury while in police custody. The rally took place peacefully two days before the Baltimore County state’s attorney ruled Gray’s death a homicide and filed charges against six police officers involved in his detention. Continue reading

Frederick volunteers serve police officials and servicemen amidst Baltimore turmoil


Canteen serves police officials and servicemen amidst Baltimore turmoil from Medill Washington on Vimeo.

Larry Wenschhof and Canteen 1 from the Independent Hose Company of Frederick are at the M&T Stadium where servicemen and police officials camp out between shifts. With food donations made by surrounding counties, they are making sure the men and women dispatched to help Baltimore during the state of emergency remain hydrated and well-nourished.

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The clearing of Penn and North

A police helicopter circles protesters as the 10 p.m. curfew approaches.

A police helicopter circles protesters as the 10 p.m. curfew approaches.


A young boy tunes out the clamor of the protesters.


Baltimore police hold the line as civic activists clear the ground before them.


A local resident urges protesters to obey the 10 p.m. curfew from the roof of a Metro stop.


Local activists form a human chain to drive protesters and media away from the police.


10:15 pm: A lone protester stares down the police as tear gas is fired to clear the intersection.


A protester is detained after fireworks were lobbed at police.


10:25 p.m.: Police backed by an armored vehicle push forward into the intersection.


Baltimore policeman scans the intersection with teargas launcher at the ready.


Police fire pepper balls at protesters who approach the line.


10:40 p.m.: Police continue firing tear gas into the intersection to disperse remaining protesters.


10:50 p.m.: Police oversee the successfully cleared intersection.

Maryland Army National Guard PAO explains how Baltimore troops are trained to deal with press

Captain Cody Starken of the Maryland Army National Guard stands near the front entrance of the Maryland National Guard Center in Adelphi, Maryland, on April 30, 2015. (Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory/MEDILL NSJI)

Captain Cody Starken of the Maryland Army National Guard stands near the front entrance of the Maryland National Guard Center in Adelphi, Maryland, on April 30, 2015. (Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory/MEDILL NSJI)

ADELPHI, Md. — Cpt. Cody Starken, a public affairs officer with the Maryland Army National Guard, explained how ground troops who are currently state-activated to work with Joint Task Force Maryland in response to the Baltimore protests are advised to deal with the press during a Thursday interview at the Maryland National Guard Center in Adelphi, Maryland.

Listen to his insights here:

Photos: Baltimore City Hall becomes protest-free press parade as curfew arrives

  • Maryland Army National Guard soldiers stand in front of Baltimore City Hall on April 30, 2015. (Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory/MEDILL NSJI)
    Maryland Army National Guard soldiers stand in front of Baltimore City Hall on April 30, 2015. (Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory/MEDILL NSJI)

BALTIMORE — Despite playing host to a major demonstration earlier in the day, Baltimore City Hall became a press-addled ghost town as the citywide 10 p.m. curfew approached on April 30, 2015.  Check out the photo gallery above to get a glimpse of the situation on the ground there on Thursday night.

Protesters defy curfew in Baltimore

Tensions high on first night of Baltimore curfew from Medill Washington on Vimeo.

Tensions flared as some residents of Baltimore’s Penn North neighborhood begged others to go home before the 10 p.m. curfew took effect.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake begged protesters to be home in time for the curfew.

“We cannot make any major changes that need to be made tonight,” she said over loudspeaker to the crowd.

But the crowd did not leave. Police pushed forward to force the crowd from the intersection, and some protesters responded by throwing bottles. Police fired back with tear gas, pepper spray projectiles and and smoke grenades.

Crowds eventually dispersed as police cleared the streets.

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Protesters, police square off in Baltimore, but riots averted

BALTIMORE, Md. — Protesters clashed with police on the city’s west side Tuesday night as anger over the death of 25-year-old black man Freddie Gray while in police custody again boiled into violence.

Though the unrest stopped well short of the rioting and arson that swept through some sections of the city on Monday, the situation remained tense as authorities sought to clear the streets and enforce the 10 p.m. – 5 a.m. curfew.

For most of the day, demonstrators had massed in front of a police barricade near the intersection of Pennsylvania and West North avenues, where crowds had looted and torched a CVS drugstore the day before. The protests were peaceful and even took on a festive character as demonstrators of all ages played drums and danced in an impromptu parade.

Demonstrators protesting the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray occupied the intersection of Pennsylvania and West North avenues Tuesday night. Photo by Matthew Schehl.

Demonstrators protesting the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray occupied the intersection of Pennsylvania and West North avenues Tuesday night. Photo by Matthew Schehl.

By nightfall however, the crowd near the barricade at Pennsylvania Avenue had thickened. But many on the scene vocally denounced violence and provocation. Pastors, church groups and representatives from the Nation of Islam pleaded with the crowd to remain peaceful.

A group of area residents even attempted to clear the intersection by forming a human chain between protesters and police in riot gear.

“It’s a tragedy to see the community being destroyed,” said David Morrison, one of those who helped link up the human chain.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake addressed the crowd multiple times via loudspeaker. As the 10 p.m. curfew neared, Rawlings-Blake implored protesters to return to their homes.

And while many heeded that call, others seemed emboldened by it.

A number of young men climbed atop the Penn/North Metro stop elevator holding signs and chanting “We don’t get tired.” Others wearing gas masks and bandanas rushed forward and gave the middle finger to police.

Shortly after 10, the police advanced to clear people from the intersection, prompting several protesters to throw bottles —some of them glass— at the police. In return, police set off smoke grenades and tear gas and were seen shooting pepper-spray projectiles. The crowd dispersed as police gradually moved through the intersection and also cleared side streets.

Police later dispatched vans, Humvees and helicopters to enforce the week-long curfew.

The late-night standoff was a departure from the scenes of calm and cooperation across Baltimore earlier Tuesday.

Baltimore police in full riot gear prepare to clear the intersection of Pennsylvania and West North avenues as the curfew approaches. Photo by Matthew Schehl.

Baltimore police in full riot gear prepare to clear the intersection of Pennsylvania and West North avenues as the curfew approaches. Photo by Matthew Schehl.

Hundreds of Maryland National Guardsmen arrived to keep the peace in the city’s downtown and Inner Harbor neighborhoods. Soldiers carrying gas masks and assault rifles patrolled the quiet waterfront, where most businesses were closed early.

Crisis was also averted in the city’s northwestern suburbs. Rumors suggested that teenagers planned to target the Security Square Mall in Windsor Mill, Md., in a “purge,” apparently a reference to a 2013 dystopian film of the same name in which all crime is made legal for 24 hours.

Among those seeking to defuse the tension at the shopping center were self-described gang members who said they did not want to see their city suffer.

Gang member and rapper Orlando “Magik” Gilyard voiced his frustration with area youth, who he said had taken advantage of Gray’s death.

“I’d rather see us —BGF (Black Guerrilla Family), Bloods, Crips, blacks, whites— stop these kids from making the wrong decisions,” Gilyard said.

Gilyard and a number of his friends turned away one group of high schoolers who approached the shopping area.

“Stealing a pair of shoes, that’s not worth dying for,” said Christopher Johnson, another self-identified gang member. “This is not a movie, this is real life.”


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Advice from journalists covering the Freddie Gray fallout in Baltimore

  • A woman attempts to document a Tuesday-evening protest in Baltimore held in response to Freddie Gray's death in police custody on her phone. Police deployed tear gas in an attempt to quell the crowd, creating the smoky haze seen here. ( Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory/MEDILL NSJI)

Reporters, photographers and other journalists rarely receive formal training on how to cover urban protests and demonstrations.  Usually they rely on the collected wisdom of colleagues who have had earlier experiences, some as recent as last year’s tension and violence in Ferguson, Missouri.

Now with the current demonstrations and violent protests in Baltimore following the death in police custody of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, another collection of journalists, young and old, is witnessing and learning what it means to cover unrest in one of the nation’s larger cities.

The lessons can be hard, the anxiety high and the consequences fearsome, so I went cautiously into the fray of Baltimore neighborhoods Tuesday to get a feel for the situation awaiting journalists on the ground and to gather reporting advice from veteran journalists, along with cautionary tips from military and community leaders. I was joined by Medill reporters Matt Schehl, Beth Lawrence and Zachary Vasile, who were also covering the tensions.

Here are some thoughts based on our observations and interviews that will help navigate reporting on often-violent street protests that can be as confusing as they are dangerous.

1. Don’t go it alone.

While flaming police cars and flying bricks tend to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to covering protests, the whole “safety in numbers” maxim still applies.

The ability to operate across a variety of media is all well and good, but when time is of the essence and deadline is nearing, picking a niche at which you can excel can make the difference between a good story and a great one.

If you are a print journalist, it helps to be paired with a photographer. If you work in video, it helps to have a sound person. Regardless of how you mix-and-match your group’s components, having two (or more) players on your reporting team will increase your level of safety, help you fact-check details observed on the ground and allow you to focus wholly on your work within a single reporting medium versus trying to be a one-man band.

It’s also vital to set a rallying point before the start of an event – and especially a demonstration – where your reporting team can meet if anything goes awry. That way, even if your phone chargers die and you get separated in a large crowd, you can use that landmark as a point of reference for the sake of safety.

“Have a buddy and know where you parked your car,” says Reuters News Agency video producer Zachary Goelman.

2. Realize that the media is not a welcomed guest by everyone in the Baltimore community.

Two negative schools of thought regarding the media are gaining traction there.

The first is that the media has no place at peaceful demonstrations because it is sensationalism-obsessed, and, so, citizens assume that we’ll be disappointed unless we have a riot to show for our attendance and, therefore, we tend to tell unbalanced stories.

The second is that the media’s mere presence at demonstrations exacerbates tensions between civilians and law enforcement and essentially eggs the latter on, so an absence of media would result in increased peace between cops and the community.

While both of these points are worth considering, they also put journalists at risk of bodily harm or other types of harassment. It’s important to realize that clear communication can help build the missing trust.

Introduce yourself and your organization. Be open to hearing out subjects’ perspectives and building a story around them vs. trying to illicit responses that fit within a predetermined angle. Above all, treat your story subjects with respect and courtesy, and treat each introduction and interview as a human – rather than a business – transaction.

3. Understand preexisting biases.

Recognize that racial tension is high and many people may be reluctant to speak with reporters of any color.  In the eyes of many local citizens, the Freddie Gray case is as much about race as it is about law-enforcement accountability.

4. Bring (or rent) a car.

You cannot rely on just Baltimore’s public transit system, the geography of the Freddie Gray story is wide and its major flash points may change quickly.   Hopping in a car is much more time-efficient on deadline. If you’re car-less or can’t afford a rental, Uber is the next best thing. Wait times on Tuesday tended to be in the 3-5 minute range, and we didn’t pay more than $10 to get anywhere.

5. Pack the right equipment.

On Tuesday evening, the police-press dynamic at the protest around the intersection of West North and Pennsylvania avenues in Baltimore became very hostile, very quickly. Tear gas and smoke both came into play, in addition to projectiles being tossed by protestors at cops.

I didn’t bring a helmet, but I did bring a painter’s respirator (~$30 at Home Depot) just in case. I thought I was being paranoid, but soon as smoke appeared at Tuesday night’s protest and then saw other journalists donning gas masks and respirators of their own, I was glad I did.

Jeff Abell, a journalist with Baltimore Fox affiliate WBFF TV, advises journalists to keep a safe, reasonable distance from tear gas when it is deployed because the wind can carry the chemical your way even if you aren’t the intended target.

“If you’re out of sight, you’re gonna be out of mind,” he says.

Goelman, the video producer from Reuters,  suggested packing “a bicycle helmet if you have it, a respirator if you can find one, some sort of eye protection” and “clothes you don’t mind donating” in addition to your normal reporting equipment.

And on a tech note, bring backup power for your backup power. Portable power sources run from about $5 (~one full smartphone charge, but not necessarily as powerful after the first go round) to $40 (~3 full smartphone charges and a bit sturdier), and are necessary investments for anyone heading out to Baltimore.

Unless your news organization gives you a generator to bring with you, there are zero places to plug in on the street. While coffee shops can be good options under regular circumstances, nearly every single local business we came across was closing before sunset in order to ensure the safety of its employees in the midst of the demonstrations.

“I would pack as many chargers as you have as possible because you will go through all of them,” Abell says. “Be sure you have some power supply because it doesn’t matter, you know, how much you think you have — everybody’s been running out and trying to plug in wherever you can see a plug.”

Portable wi-fi is also a must, since the citywide curfew means that all businesses have to be shuttered by 10 p.m. and cellular signals have been markedly slow within Baltimore.

6. Don’t assume that rules automatically will apply to you.

The Baltimore Police Department tweeted out a clarification message for journalists about the citywide curfew that took effect Tuesday.

According to the message, anyone with credentials was exempt from the curfew.

However, during Tuesday’s protest, police in helicopters above the crowd and surrounding buildings repeatedly instructed members of the media to disperse or else risk arrest. Additionally, the Baltimore mayor showed up to personally urge journalists and protestors, alike, to go home prior to the curfew.

These warnings, combined with the threat of arrest against journalists who remained after the 10 p.m. cutoff, suggests that the curfew’s implementation is dynamic in practice. For this reason, we’d suggest any journalists covering demonstrations with a police presence to exercise an abundance of caution.

7. If you’re traveling with a camera, don’t stick it in anyone’s face without permission.

This should go without saying, but increasing tensions have resulted in increasing assaults on journalists within city limits – including equipment theft and physical assault – so no interview is worth testing the limits of the community’s patience.

8. Show up early and leave late.

Reporting days in Baltimore go by fast, so getting local by late morning or early afternoon will give you more time to scope out interviews with locals, arrange meetings with community leaders and more.

On the flipside, leaving late – especially from protests – can give you a feel for the police-civilian dynamics at play in communities or just give you an opportunity to follow up with someone whose perspective piqued your interest during an event.

“I would treat this as a story that moves on its own rather than one you can move in,” says Reuters’s Goelman. “I would rely on the media and the press relations office of the law enforcement institutions. Follow them on Twitter.”

9. Talk to the people in uniform.

On Tuesday, the Maryland National Guard, Maryland state troopers and Baltimore city police were scattered throughout the city in an attempt to maintain order. The average cop was carrying a gun, zip ties, a nightstick and a Taser gun, while military members were fully suited up and armed. While the equipment may look forbidding, it’s important to understand how law enforcement communication systems work.

Individual police officers usually are discouraged from speaking to the press, but members of the media can direct press requests for everything from interviews to ride-alongs to the department’s Public Information Officer, or PIO. From there, the PIO can route your request down the proper parts of the bureaucratic pipeline, and no one risks getting fired for talking to you.

Maryland National Guard Staff Sergeant Michael Davis, a Public Affairs Officer (PAO), said soldiers are generally briefed on what they are and aren’t allowed to discuss, so any soldier should, theoretically, be approachable by the public. However, he said, the standard practice is first to make a request of a military division’s PAO, but there won’t necessarily be a PAO with every group of National Guard soldiers.

“Most soldiers know what to say, what not to say,” Davis explained. “We’re not gonna give specifics about our mission [or] put ourselves in harm.”

According to Maryland National Guard Sergeant Adam Safley, soldiers are trained to know where to direct journalists to get the information they need.  “If we can’t give you the answer, we’ll help you find the person that can give you the answer,” Safley says.

10. Realize that there is life (and news) after protests.

Media briefings with the mayor and police, prayer vigils and civic-action meetings are just a handful of entry points journalists could cover to expand the Baltimore dialogue past protests. The current controversy began with an arrest,  injury and loss of life, so examining the systems at play in these respective stages of the Freddie Gray story – as well as the long-term impact of his death on his neighborhood and the greater Baltimore area – is crucial to telling it responsibly.

Hear what Deacon Kevin Underdue Sr., a Baltimore preacher, has to say on the subject: