5 Tips for Covering Conflict at the Political Conventions

Protesters hold up signs as they protest outside of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center prior to Presidential candidate Donald Trump's rally in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. Antonella Crescimbeni/The Daily Collegian

By Adrienne Andrews

UPDATE (July 6, 2016) - The Cleveland Police Department has issued a revised Divisional Notice regarding the "Video Recording of Police Activities with input from NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher.

Athens, GA (June 24, 2016) –With the Republicans in Cleveland July 18-21 and the Democrats Philadelphia July 25-28 for their national conventions, journalists across the industry are preparing to cover what are anticipated to be divisive meetings.

In preparation for the conventions, NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher has several tips for dealing with law enforcement and protesters in an effort to avoid altercations and to keep journalists safe.


It is imperative that journalists are aware of their rights and the protections available to them when entering a possibly dangerous or hostile environment. NPPA has a wealth of knowledge and advocacy options for member visual journalists. See: First Amendment Issues in Public SpacesSymposium Takeaway  and Practical Advice about Covering High Conflict News

Information about press credentials and visual journalist rights can be found on the NPPA advocacy page. NPPA will also be coordinating with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press who operate a First Amendment rights hotline at (800) 336-4243.


One of the important aspects of covering high-stress events like the RNC and DNC is being aware of your surroundings and having an exit plan in case the situation becomes hostile. Be aware of exits and the areas that press is allowed to enter, as well as the location of nearby police officers in case of an altercation with protesters.

An effective way to increase situational awareness is to work in pairs with other journalists.

"It's really a good idea to work with somebody else so they can watch your back,” Osterreicher said.

He also suggests that, in the event that the situation takes a turn for the worse, journalists should move toward the nearest police officer under the assumption that they could protect you from hostile or violent protesters.


If crowds become hostile, the last thing a journalist wants is to be mistaken for an instigator, which could lead to physical harm or arrest. To set yourself apart from protesters and other attendees at the conventions, make sure to openly display press credentials and dress in a professional manner, Osterreicher said.


“The first reaction to a police officer approaching is often to take this defensive posture, and that could be construed badly,” Osterreicher said. Even in a stressful environment, Osterreicher urges journalists to maintain a polite, calm, and professional attitude to diffuse any possible hostility.


In the case of an arrest, all personal belongings are confiscated by law enforcement, so it is wise to have important information and phone numbers written in permanent ink somewhere on your body so that it is available even after arrest.

Further, Osterreicher advises that having audio and video equipment in your toolset, regardless of the medium you work in. It can be important because any material recorded during an altercation or arrest may act as evidence for your defense.

Making sure you are equipped for the worst case may help in the aftermath of a hostile encounter with police or attendees.