Let’s Be Careful Out There

Yesterday I was sent several emails and links to pages giving advice about personal safety when covering riots and other public order situations. It’s all sensible stuff, and the kind of thing that tends to circulate when there’s been some significant disorder. As a Union rep, I’m probably the first to talk about health and safety when sending reporters anywhere, let alone into a riot.

Yet, no matter how much you read and re-read this stuff, and no matter how much you promise yourself you’ll stay away from trouble, it’s nigh on impossible to ignore a story happening right on your doorstep. Last night was one such occasion.

I’d popped over to Nottingham High School where a group of youths had decided to climb onto the roof. It was a relatively minor bit of bovver for the police, and more like something from the Muppet Show from what I saw. One guy arrested was clearly known to the police officer who shouted his name at him as he was ordered out of his car.

But then, it all cracked off. Right outside my gate. Loud sirens aren’t uncommon in my part of Nottingham – but the sheer numbers alerted me to the gate. There were at least five police vans, then six, then seven. I dared to venture onto the street, to be told in no uncertain terms that I should go home. Something had happened at a local Tesco. It seemed like a disproportionate response.

I later worked out that the police were arresting a load of youths who’d just firebombed my local police station.

Canning Circus Police Station being firebombed

Lovely stuff. But what made this different is that this wasn’t a police station on a notorious housing estate. It wasn’t one on a back street. It was on arguably the busiest road junction in Nottingham. And the surrounding area was like a ghost town.

Two local pubs were closed, one was open but had its doors locked. Well, wouldn’t you do the same? And this is when journalistic instinct and adrenalin took over from any safety guide. I just went into the pub and asked who’d seen or heard what. Immediately I found two guys who’d been on the rooftop garden overlooking the police station when it happened.
A while later, when I’d filed some audio and arranged a two way with Five Live I saw a lone woman standing outside the pub. I’d seen her at the High School earlier – a rival from the Nottingham Post. I could, have course, ignored her and carried on. But at times like this a journalist is a journalist – so I got one of the bar staff to let her in and pointed her in the direction of the witnesses.
The phrase “times like these” is sometimes over-used. But it’s at times like these when you want to be part of the story – you just have to talk about it – and get as many people talking about it as you can. This career is often slated for crap hours and low pay. The rewards are few. But it’s also an addictive job. Something you can’t easily walk away from. Something that you can’t give up.
So, big kudos to all the journalists on the streets last night – not least BBC East Midlands’ Quentin Rayner and his cameraman Paul. And well done to the hard working hacks back at base, who stayed on beyond their shifts to keep people informed. 

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