What was the media's role in the May Day melee?

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by JOE FRYER / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on May 2, 2013 at 7:19 PM

Updated Thursday, May 2 at 7:20 PM

SEATTLE -- Dozens of journalists were caught between protesters and police throughout the dramatic May Day melee.  Images from Wednesday night show a variety of still and video photographers chasing after hot spots, including the arrests, flash bangs and pepper spray.

On social media sites, some have wondered if the strong media presence fueled the fire.

Throughout the day, protesters demonstrated a strong dislike for TV cameras. 

"Get that mainstream-media camera out of my face please," one woman said during a morning May Day rally. 

Many protesters attempted to interfere with live television coverage by holding up middle fingers and swearing near open microphones. 

During the heart of the confrontation, journalists were battling flash bangs and tear gas, just like the protesters and bystanders. 

"If you happened to be there, you were going to get a flash bang thrown your way," said Ken Lambert, a photographer with The Seattle Times. 

Despite those challenges, Erika Schultz with The Seattle Times felt most people were pretty respectful -- "both the police and demonstrators," she said. 

The challenges seemed greater for video cameras.  Video evidence and verbal accounts indicate the first arrests might have come after a TV crew was allegedly assaulted Wednesday night. 

"That kind of begs the whole question, 'Was there a little bit of wag the dog?'" Lambert asked.  "How much of it just feeds on itself at that point?"

University of Washington journalism professor David Domke said, at first, journalists were protest chroniclers.  But gradually, they might have become unintentional catalysts.

"Where the media -- in telling the story, taking pictures, interview -- suddenly became part of the story and catalyzed it and made it blow up in a slightly different way," Domke said. 

In a 24/7 news world, it puts an onus on journalists, police and protesters to be as thoughtful as possible, Domke argued. 

"The protester has to know anything I do right now is going to be seen by millions," Domke said.  "The journalist has to say, how I present this right now has an impact, is not going to be forgotten because it's going to be Tweeted."

KIRO Radio's Dave Ross says there's no way to know what would happen if the media were not there.  And he doesn't want to know. 

"The media's role is to cover the city," Ross said.  "And they did that from all angles."

Lambert, of The Seattle Times, agrees.

"We are paid to cover the community, that's what we do.  We're not going to not show up," he said.  "I would say a lot of people that gripe, if they were given the alternative that there was coverage allowed, they would not like that."

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