Protests in several state capitals against stay-at-home orders have challenged already-stretched newsrooms to make coverage decisions that take into account safety, resources, and news judgment.
John Daniszewski, Associated Press Vice President and Editor at Large for Standards, described to us by email how one of the largest news organizations in the world is covering the demonstrations:
“We have not circulated any guidelines, but the editors involved have been discussing best practices on how we ought to cover these.
“In general, we have decided that we have reached a point where we are better off shifting from individual coverage of each rally, many of which are not large, and rather presenting more generally what the events are about and where the organization and impetus for them is coming from. We don’t want to overstate the protests when they occur, and by the same token we do not want to under-cover them either — they are clues to the policy and political divides that do exist in the country.
“A few examples of our coverage choices:
- We have a poll coming out that shows most Americans actually support the stay at home orders, in contrast to the protest activity.
- Reporters have been careful to note that the number of people who are protesting are the same as any regular Thursday in some cases.
- We transmitted a piece (Tuesday, April 21) looking at the misinformation circulating on the Facebook pages that played a role in recruiting protesters, and the story also looked at some of the individuals and groups circulating that information.
“As with any organized public protests that exist largely to garner attention to a cause, a sense of balance is needed, including fact-based reporting into how large the protest is, is it truly spontaneous and grassroots, who is driving the action and why, how broadly popular the protest aims are and how the protest might affect public debates and health and safety going forward. Given how many of the actions we’ve seen and the varying nature of support in each instance, we think focusing on the drivers of these actions is the more informative way to go.
“Organized protests usually have to be fairly significant in size and impact or else spark some notable public reaction to be newsworthy, especially at a regional or national level.”