Lessons learned while
capturing history amid
the riots in Ferguson

By Abby Skelton
Bulletin Staff

“Immediately… a large angry crowd was there… It turned very nasty, very quickly, and subsequently the body (of Michael Brown) lay there, on the street, for four hours.”

J.B. Forbes, chief photographer at the St. Louis Post Dispatch, described the first moments of his reporting on the shooting death of Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

The tension was palpable, Forbes said about covering the riots in Ferguson in the wake of Brown’s death. Forbes described the crowds, the overturned cars, the convenience stores on fire, and the looting. Forbes said he feared for his life, “but I had to keep shooting (photos).”

At the New England Newspaper and Press Association winter convention, Forbes discussed his Pulitzer Prize-winning work on covering the death of Brown and the ensuing riots in Ferguson. His talk, titled “Lessons learned covering Ferguson” and presented Saturday, Feb. 20, was attended by about 30 people.

Forbes showed a 23-minute video of the events in Ferguson that he put together with his team of photojournalists at the Post-Dispatch. The video was created in response to the public riots in Ferguson as a result of a grand jury decision not to indict the police officer involved in the shooting of Brown.

The video helped to paint a picture of what Forbes and his fellow journalists went through, and offered opinions and stories from civilians, police and elected officials.

After the video was shown, Forbes gave more details about the scene and what he experienced.

“All I know is that you can feel the tension, you could hear the tension; all I knew… was that this was going to get worse,” he said.

After the death of Brown, photojournalists worked around the clock during the riots, taking risks and endangering their lives to get their shots, Forbes said.

Forbes said he was pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, threatened, chased, and almost shot by protesters or police officers during his time covering the riots.

“It was dangerous … but it was history. I had to capture it,” he said.

One of the biggest lessons for Forbes was the importance of impartiality as a journalist. A few days into the riots, journalists began pouring in from across the country to cover the events in Ferguson. Some of the people who showed up had rudimentary media passes, and called themselves citizen journalists.

“It was clear that they were not real journalists because they had an agenda. And they would take pictures and they would get out in the street, and at first the police were hesitant about moving them out of the way, but then they’d go and yell in the policemen's face,” Forbes said.

That led police to use tear gas, shoot rubber bullets, and arrest journalists and civilian protestors indiscriminately, Forbes said.

Forbes said he thought that the civilian journalists threatened his credibility.

At the end of the session, Forbes urged the audience to be cognizant of situations similar to Ferguson.

“We have to stay impartial (as journalists). It’s our job,” Forbes said.

J.B. Forbes' discussion of lessons he learned covering the violence in Ferguson, Mo., provoked questions from his audience of about 30 people.

‘It was dangerous … but it was history. I had to capture it.’

-- J.B. Forbes,
Chief photographer,
St. Louis Post Dispatch


POSTED 3/17/16


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