Mark Chisholm on documenting the protests in Hong Kong
Over the past few weeks, Reuters videographers have been covering mass protests in Hong Kong following the government’s proposed legislation that would allow extraditions to mainland China. Protesters have demanded the bill be withdrawn. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Chief Producer Mark Chisholm offers an inside look at documenting these events.
Q. How did the team cover the story?
A. Our Hong Kong-based visuals team followed the mass march on June 9, but it wasn’t until that evening when protesters clashed with police outside of government offices that we realized the seriousness of the situation. I subsequently sent in reinforcements to beef up our operation and prepare for the worst. Although we had a full schedule laid out on June 12 for the reading of the unpopular bill that would extradite suspects to mainland China, spontaneous protests hijacked the scene that morning with thousands of people occupying the roads surrounding key government offices. The events of that day were completely unpredictable and our visuals teams filmed several hours of running clashes between protesters and police. Due to the wide scale of the clashes and signal jamming, almost everyone lost their signals. Our team reacted quickly by setting up a live camera position in a nearby government building which enabled us to broadcast the clashes live to our clients globally. Over 1,043 news channels used our coverage over the week and we have plenty of evidence that Reuters was the ‘go-to’ source for video.
Q. What was it like covering a story like this?
A. I ran the television operation during Hong Kong’s Occupy Central street protests in 2014, so fortunately I was familiar with the situation on the ground. However, the protests in 2014 were different with leaders and activists leading the movement, but last week’s protests there were no clear leaders. It was completely spontaneous and unpredictable, and we had to go with the flow of the people, which made planning and coverage more complicated.
Q. Why was this an important story to tell our customers?
A. When you have so many angry people taking to the streets to voice their dissatisfaction with their government, it’s important as a news agency that we report the story in a fair and unbiased way. Also, Hong Kong is known as one of the world’s most stable financial centers. To see such protests and disruption in a major financial center, such as Hong Kong, adds an extra angle to the story – it is potentially no longer just a big, general news story but a big business news story too.
Q. What makes you passionate about journalism?
A. I grew up in apartheid-era South Africa at a time when events on the streets of Johannesburg and other major cities were making headlines around the world. I saw the positive impact journalism had in helping to right wrongs and change perceptions and even policies. I was a freelancer at the time and surrounded by some of the world’s best journalists and correspondents, who inspired me to go into journalism myself. Since those days in South Africa I have covered many of the world’s top stories, working with some of the best producers and reporters. I still get a thrill out of covering those stories – as was the case recently in Hong Kong. That will never change.
Q. What have been your most rewarding and most difficult experiences as a journalist?
A. The most rewarding experience for me is when I see my own, or my team’s, video of a breaking news story being used by several major broadcasters. Our images can impact society, change history, or prompt world leaders to take action. Some of the most difficult experiences for me as a journalist was spending over two decades covering wars, disasters, famine, death and destruction while witnessing unspeakable horrors. Obviously, it was my choice going on these assignments, but filming people’s pain and suffering on a regular basis can take its toll and the healing process can be a slow one.
Q. Can you imagine being anything other than a journalist? If so, what?
A. Being a video journalist is in my blood. I can’t imagine doing anything other than travelling the world and reporting on some of the world’s biggest stories.
Q. Anything else you’d like to share?
A. It was so rewarding for me as a team leader to have covered last week’s Hong Kong protests with such a young dynamic, vibrant, diverse and talented multi-skilled team. It is a team that will lead us into the future.