Hurting journalists while they report is unacceptable. King explains why.

Maya King is a reporter at Politico, a news site that focuses on politics and policy in the United States. Her work primarily concentrates on the intersection of race and politics.

@mayaaking on Twitter

Maya King is a reporter at Politico, a news site that focuses on politics and policy in the United States. Her work primarily concentrates on the intersection of race and politics.

In mid-April, following the police shooting of Daunte Wright and the ongoing Derek Chauvin trial, journalists covering protests in Brooklyn Center were assaulted and detained by police officers. They showed their credentials to the officers, but it didn’t make a difference in many cases. Photographers captured the violence they experienced on the cameras they brought to cover the event. On Apr. 16, federal judge Wilhelmina Wright issued a court order rejecting officers from arresting or using any force against journalists. A few days later, she commented that they did not abide by the order. Governor Tim Walz spoke on the issue in an interview on Apr. 17, calling it unacceptable and promising that the incidents would be looked into further.

Forbes reported that during the protests following George Floyd’s murder between May 26 and Jun. 6, there were more than 328 press freedom violations. Police officers arrested at least 54 journalists. Reporters experienced 208 assaults, 173 of which were by police officers. According to the Press Freedom Tracker, Minnesota had the most press freedom violations in the country, with a total of 41 violations at the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Press freedom violations are not typical. Being injured or arrested in the field is not a part of the job. In total, there were over 440 journalists assaulted in 2020, an 1160% increase compared to 2019.

Maya King is a politics reporter at Politico, a news site that focuses on politics and policy in the United States. King focuses on the intersection of race and politics, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, police reform in Congress, and how the black identity changes politics. At the beginning of 2020, King was on the campaign trail. Once COVID-19 hit, she began covering black doctors who were calling for more data around testing and the discovery that the virus hit communities of color harder. In response to Floyd’s murder, Politico put her on the Black Lives Matter team to cover its growth. Recently, she visited Atlanta to cover the aftermath of the shootings against Asian Americans. While she doesn’t usually cover protests, she’s constantly in the field. King said, “Being in the field is, of course, very different than being in the newsroom. It requires you to be a lot more alert, and you have to try to find the story as you see it. […] No trip is the same as the last, so I’ve just always had to really be aware, and I think the biggest challenge again is just figuring out what the story is, especially when you’re trying to talk to people and distill the really important details from a big national story like an election or a shooting or something like that.”

King usually asks to have 24 hours between when her editors give her the assignment and when her flight departs. She uses this time to research potential interviewees and get a general sense of what the story is. When it’s not possible to have that time, she notes everything that she already knows about the situation and calls a few of her sources to find out what they know. Journalists rely on a network of sources that specialize in the topics they cover to be informed on upcoming events and gather information quickly in a time crunch. Of course, she also makes sure that she charges all of her electronics, so she is always ready to report on continuously developing stories. “I just have to play it by ear. I think the most challenging part also of being in the field is that you can plan kind of loosely or generally where you’d like to go, and maybe who you want to talk to, but it’s just so hard because things can change on a dime in developing stories and that’s part of the reason why you get sent out is to try to follow it as it happens,” King said.

She’s heard other journalists’ experiences at protests that turned violent, but she has never experienced it herself because most protests remain peaceful. According to The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, there were 10,600 protests during the summer of 2020, 95% of which were peaceful. King said, “I talk to activists pretty regularly, and folks who plan these events and these protests, and most of them say that they never ever intend for them to turn violent. That’s not the plan.” Protests where law enforcement has felt the need to bring tanks, rubber bullets, and pepper spray put journalists at risk and protesters. She said, “We saw a lot of first-time protesters last summer, and that was something also that added to this feeling that perhaps protest is dangerous.”

Anywhere you go in the field you take a risk, and it can turn dangerous, but that’s why we have the support of our newsrooms and folks who give us the kind of guidelines that we need to know what to do if we feel like we’re being placed at harm.”

— Maya King

When a journalist is entering a potentially dangerous situation, they ensure that their editor and newsroom know where they are. The proper tools must be used so the reporters and editors in the newsroom can help protect the journalist in the field and check in on them frequently. The reporter in the field has their journalist badge or press pass displayed clearly so law enforcement and protesters alike know who they are. In situations like a protest in an outdoor downtown area, King explained that journalists keep aware of their surroundings, so they always know how to exit quickly and safely. There are packing lists available for what to bring to war zone-type places that crisis journalists create as resources. The lists include helmets, goggles, and gas masks. King said, “Anywhere you go in the field you take a risk, and it can turn dangerous, but that’s why we have the support of our newsrooms and folks who give us the kind of guidelines that we need to know what to do if we feel like we’re being placed at harm.”

Since Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020, Minnesota has experienced many protests that have turned violent, primarily by police officers attempting to control crowds and making in-the-moment decisions. Protests are not usually dangerous, and only crisis journalists can expect to be in potentially dangerous situations. Protesters and police officers harmed over 200 journalists across the country during the summer of 2020. Each instance was a violation of the press’s first amendment rights.