Covering Coronavirus: Tips, best practices and programs

MPR ‘taking extra precautions’ in dual protest and pandemic reporting

Duchesne Drew is president of Minnesota Public Radio

As protests raged in Minneapolis this week, after George Floyd’s death in police custody, journalists, editors and producers face questions of safety, accurate reporting and the potentially traumatic impact on staff against the backdrop of a pandemic. 

MPR President Duchesne Drew shared how the public radio organization is supporting its staff and working to accurately depict what is taking place. 

In light of the developing news and events in Minneapolis, what guidance are newsroom leaders giving reporters working in the field right now? 

Drew: The health and safety of all of our staff is our top priority. For those journalists who are out in the field, we are taking extra precautions. We’ve asked our journalists to work in pairs for additional safety, and to always do what feels right and safe to them, and to leave a situation if it feels unsafe. We trust their judgment.

How is MPR addressing safety, specifically, for its staff, in response to working through the pandemic and the evolving circumstances during protests? 

Drew: Our news staff has been supplied with N-95 and cloth masks, as well as first aid kits. We also have ordered gas masks and have reflective vests with our MPR logo clearly marked on the back available for journalists. Our press passes have been enhanced so it’s very clear that our journalists are there covering the story. We’ve set up check-in points at a couple locations, where reporters in the field can stop in to pick up food, water, and hand sanitizer. They also can access the internet and power at these locations. We have a regular security presence at our building, and are enhancing building security as necessary.

This morning’s on-camera arrest of a CNN crew covering the protests leaves many in the field with questions. How has MPR addressed interactions with local and state police with its staff, and has there been outreach to those agencies?   

Drew: We have experienced reporters and long-standing working relationships with these agencies. That said, we also recognize how important it is that when we’re in the field, we are clear with law enforcement officers that we are journalists and doing our job to keep the public informed.

Language plays such a large role in how the public perceives a story. What are reporters and newsroom leaders weighing when deciding how they describe scenes and situations? (For example, use of the word protest or riot, in coverage.) 

Drew: Our newsroom leaders are trying to focus on actions, such as “people are protesting peacefully, some people are setting fire to buildings, some people are rioting.” Being specific is best. We are reporting what we know and what we can confirm with our own eyes or through direct witnesses. We are very aware that we can’t put labels on large groups and are trying to be as specific, factual and precise as we can.

How is MPR addressing the physical and mental health needs of journalists right now, particularly journalists of color?   

Drew: These events can be traumatic and triggering, so we are taking care to keep checking in with our teammates and encouraging leaders to ask their colleagues who report to them how they’re doing. Our executive leaders have stressed that all employees know about the resources available to them, including our Employee Assistance Program and employee resource groups. Being there for each other is the most important thing we can do.