As a first responder turned journalist, it didn’t take long for Chris Post to see he had a level of training his new coworkers did not.
“I quickly realized that my background in public safety was unique in doing what I do now,” Post said. “Yeah there are other people like me who have public safety backgrounds that came in to work in journalism, but I realized that I was fortunate and a felt maybe a little bit of duty to help other people understand some of the things that kept me safe.”
This drive to educate others is what led Post to the Excellence in Journalism 2019 conference. Post held a breakout session titled “Staying Safe in the Streets: Lessons from a First Responder Turned Journalist,” where he spoke about his personal experiences, practical ways to stay safe in the field and showed off his extensive protective gear.
As a photojournalist, Post has been caught in the fray of multiple protests. This included the protests surrounding the 2016 inauguration, which he described as “pepper spray city,” and the Freddie Gray Baltimore riots. Post brought up the Baltimore riot multiple times during the presentation, even mentioning a specific attack where a Ragu jar full of urine was thrown at his head.
Many journalists would head into those types of situation with some gear, but might not be fully prepared for the situation at hand. Post, however, makes sure he is prepared in case a situation escalates. After years of safety training Post explained that being alert and prepared is ingrained in his daily life.
“I wish I could turn this stuff off,” Post said. “After 20 years I had to do this every single day to stay safe. I have the best safety training in the world… [journalists] don’t get any of that.”
One strategy Post recommended to the crowd was HARPSS, or Hazards, Alliances, Risks, Plan, Safety and Strategy. He explained HARPSS as a safety checklist that journalists can go over in their head to plan for going into the field.
This concept ties into situational awareness, something Post stressed is important for journalists to develop.
“Situational awareness is the ability to identify, process and comprehend critical elements of information about what is happening around you,” Post said. “It’s looking, it’s understanding what’s going on, it’s being observant.”
Safety training and workshops like Post’s are becoming more and more necessary. Reporter Joe Vazquez is a strong advocate for better protection for journalists after an attack on his crew.
“These two men came out of nowhere, they got out of a car, they pointed a gun at my photographer’s face,” Vazquez said. “They said ‘give me your camera.’”
During the altercation, a guard that was with Vazquez got shot in the hip, but managed to shoot one of the robbers as well. The suspect who was shot and his alleged accomplice were arrested after he sought treatment for his injuries.
These types of stories are becoming more frequent, so much so that television stations in San Francisco now contract with armed security guards to go out with crews. Facing violence, at least in the Bay Area, is becoming more common.
“As journalists, we like to believe we’re impervious to pain,” Vasquez said. “…The fact is, it’s dangerous to be a journalist sometimes. There are inherent risks in doing our job.”
While the world might seem dangerous to journalists right now, there are a growing number of ways to stay safe on the job. From buying protective helmets and goggles to creating plans ahead of time—all methods recommended by Post—journalists can take strides to be proactive.
For more information on keeping yourself and your newsroom safe, visit Post’s website.
Video by Mysti Willmon. Story by Shelby Toth.