Lessons in Guerrilla Journalism from a Former Leftist Activist
MCALLEN, Texas--Arriving in the Rio Grande Valley, the current epicenter of illegal alien crossings, brings perspective to the crisis that the entire country is talking about. Rolling in from Houston with Brandon Darby, Breitbart Texas editor, this journalist listens and soaks up all the wisdom that a former leftist activist has to share on effective guerrilla journalism.
When a big story breaks, many media outlets will send their field reporters to catch their own evidence of what has already been exposed. But a guerrilla journalist will not simply stand back and watch and wait for something to happen where it has before and where others have already traveled.
At one point, Darby, Breitbart Texas reporter Kristin Tate, and I traveled to a location that was known to be a crossing for smugglers trafficking drugs or humans. As we came to a point to which U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers had previously pushed journalists, we ran into a reporter from another outlet. He recalled how they had kicked him out of the more remote areas near the Rio Grande River the previous day, so he was hanging back and waiting to hopefully capture activity on camera from a distance.
With no signs to tell us not to enter, we drove past that point and onto the roads that led to and around the river area. What we would find and experience was something that few other journalists would. As we traveled those gnarly roads, we came across plenty of evidence that illegal aliens had made their way through: baby bottles, diapers, kid and baby clothes, jackets, bags, empty formula containers, even a lone shoe. To our left, abandoned buildings marked what was once a drug smuggling village.
Not long after we had trolled around, a convoy came through with a mainstream media outlet. The stage was set and the outlet was going to get coverage of the bust of a group of illegal aliens with a full force parade with helicopters, a Homeland Security bus and multiple Border Patrol vehicles packed with officers. While we were asked to leave, we shot footage and photos of areas that weren’t being covered by other media.
An effective guerrilla journalist gets to know people--puts down the pen and paper, puts away the cameras, and just gets to know people. He asks about their lives and cares about what issues they are facing. Darby has spent some time getting to know the people along the border, and it has given great insight into what is really going on, not just what fits the narrative that some network wants to promote. When you get to know the areas and people, you get to know the real story.
When you look for the real story and not just what fits the narrative, you bring to light the issues that others don’t want to report. Darby points to the Occupy protests and how news outlets would report on the active protests, but largely left out the stories of people defecating on the streets and women being raped in the Occupy camps. Unless someone is willing to break from the predetermined narrative, the public won’t get the real, full story. And after all, isn’t the whole story what journalists are supposed to provide the public? Shouldn’t reporters deliver the whole picture now concerning the issues surrounding the influx of illegal aliens, predominantly, but not all, from Central America, through the U.S.-Mexico border?
Finally, for now, one more item that is essential to effective guerrilla journalism: be Flexible. Don’t decide to go out and take pictures for one hour at a predetermined location where all the other news outlets have been and talk to just one or two people to get a sound bite. Be willing to go where the story takes you. If a local resident gives you a lead, follow it, and find out whether there is something more to discover. Go where others haven’t gone, and try to see where the story is headed.
If a reporter limits oneself to a predetermined schedule and narrative and looks simply for sound bites from strangers, the real, whole story will remain untouched. What good does it do to tell the public what some ritzy, upper level executive decided the story would be from a high rise in the city? Get to know people, their stories, and the bigger issues at hand. This is where leftist activists, who are often in the midst of a controversy, often see what is going on. As Darby would see what was going on in Occupy camps and questioned the public narrative, the left media saw what was happening and chose not to report the uglier truth. To get the full picture, a reporter needs to get those feet in the dirt and discover the truth--then be unafraid to bring it to light.