Staying Safe While Working Seattle’s CHOP

August 5, 2020
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For three tumultuous weeks in June, an already fraught situation became that much more charged as Local 600 News Photojournalist Madelyn Hastings experienced life in the CHOP.

Hastings, a photojournalist with KOMO in Seattle since 2018, was already dealing with the new reality of reporting the news during a pandemic. Things like socially distancing during interviews and keeping the microphone a safe distance from your interviewee were suddenly a factor of everyday life. Then the death of George Floyd on May 25, followed by nationwide protests over police brutality and systemic racism, changed the story and introduced a new set of challenges.

In Seattle, the creation of the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) area on June 8 meant that Hastings and her colleagues in the news media were covering a story unlike any other as the city made a decision to let protesters gather without interference.

“Being a member of the media, there was this constant pull. On one side, I was being thanked for what I do every day. And on the other side, I was criticized the most I have ever been in my entire life. It was challenging trying to figure out my feelings about the whole thing.”

Reporting from the CHOP could mean stories about people talking in front of a bonfire, or in community gardens. It could mean speakers discussing how to end systematic racism and painting a massive BLM street mural. Or it could be pointing your camera at fights breaking out, steering clear of tear gas and pepper spray and running for cover when someone yelled out “gun.”

Hastings said the atmosphere of the experience changed daily. She had covered incidents of civil unrest before, but the CHOP experience was more intense.

“I have never felt more on edge going to work every day,” said Hastings. “You feel your heart rate rising as soon as you try to find a parking space nearby. You’re constantly watching your back. You don’t know if it’s going to be a good day or a bad day.”

Hastings grew up in Ohio and earned a degree in visual communication at Ohio University. While working at a newspaper in Muskegon, Michigan, she began to experiment in multimedia and started producing her own segments. She joined Local 600 in 2018 when she went to work at KOMO, one of 26 union photographers and editors.

Hasting said her dad, a union man his whole life, always encouraged her to join a local, telling her the union would always have her back. “I always took that to heart especially being in a big city like I am in now. This is the biggest staff I’ve ever worked with. It’s nice to know we can negotiate for things when it comes time.”

She loves life in Seattle now.

“There are so many interesting stories to tell and so many interesting people to meet every day. Not everybody can say they get to do that,” said Hastings. “I’m grateful that I am able to tell these stories. It’s been difficult for all the people I work with, but at the end of the day, we’re all feeling that this is important work we’re doing.”

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