Surviving NATO

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Preparing for the worst but hoping for boredom was our m.o. for covering NATO. Boring it was not, but thankfully, the weekend turned out to be mostly peaceful with a only few scuffles between police and protesters.

You can never be sure about how a big protest scene is going to pan out, so we were ready for teargas, pepper spray, sound cannons, bioterrorism attacks, running away quickly, and getting accidentally arrested.

I was also planning for a zombie invasion or a post-apocalyptic flight across the country to find remaining survivors, but I kept that pretty quiet. No need to be alarmist.

Turns out that I didn’t need any of it– runway quality ear protectors, particulate filters or milk of magnesia. Instead I embarked on the biggest editing adventure of my journalistic career so far, collaborating with professors Teresa Puente and Steve Franklin to edit and publish over 30 stories in one weekend on ChicagoTalks.

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My home for the weekend was the Interactive Arts and Media Research Lab. Our reporting was generously supported by a team of Columbia faculty, staff, and students headed up by Alton Miller, associate dean of the School of Media Arts, working on an emergency communications study.

It was amazing. We called it our situation room, pretending we were in an episode of CSI, sweeping our hands across the wall-sized touch screen computer and getting multiple feeds of live blogs, twitter, and video on the wall-mounted displays. (Yes, it’s every bit as flippin’ awesome as you’re thinking it is.)

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I loved the challenge of turning around stories quickly and publishing multimedia pieces. It was fantastic to really dig into social media and curate our real-time reporting. Following the whereabouts of our student reporters and monitoring their safety was a big, logistical puzzle not without some intense moments.

The air around the eerily deserted South Loop was just crackling with tension throughout the weekend. Would police resort to dangerous crowd control tactics? Would the peaceful protests take a turn towards violence?

Early Saturday evening, protesters and police landed right outside our building. I was able to step outside and catch a little video of just how surreal it felt to see dozens of police officers lined up along one of Chicago’s major intersections.

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Though several protesters suffered nasty cuts and bruises from tangles with police, our students stayed safe and produced some great work, highlighting both the untold stories of the people on Chicago’s streets during the summit and profiling the world of the summit inside McCormick place.

I’m grateful that Columbia allowed us to run our newsroom on campus, even though the college (and many other Loop businesses) shut down over the weekend. Desk editing might not be the sexiest journalistic job, but I sure am proud of the work we published.

So, where’s the next NATO summit? You bring the coffee, and I’ll be there.

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