London tuition protest

In the end, I missed the money shot.   I covered the demonstration against tuition fees in London on Thursday and I don’t have video of Princes Charles and Camilla being confronted by protestors.  I don’t have any footage of the massive bonfire in Parliament Square.  I missed the scuffle between police and the activist in a wheelchair.

I missed all of these images, now famous around the world, because it was a long day and my electronics died — the pocket HD video camera was first to run out of battery
power, followed by the still camera that also shoots video, then my smart phone and finally my back-up phone.

Did I miss the story?

This is obviously not an ideal set of circumstances for a one-woman mobile news crew covering some 20,000 students converging on the British Parliament intent on sending a message about skyrocketing tuition fees.  By the end, I was phoning in tweets to my partner Andy Watt and looking wistfully at better resourced mainstream media crews as darkness fell, the MP’s began to vote and the mood got uglier.

London police hit by paint balls

But does that mean I missed the story?  In my opinion, the answer is an unequivocal “not necessarily”.

The reason I didn’t miss the story is because I went to London specifically to cover local Birmingham university students whose anger and worry about the proposed tuition fee increases had led them to occupy public spaces in their home town four times over the previous two weeks.

They’re not what I’d call radicals, but rather young people trying to secure their future by studying subjects such as Chemical Engineering, Medicine and European Studies.

Their protest began at 11am on the Westminster Bridge where they orchestrated a photo op by hanging a 20 foot banner with Parliament as a backdrop.   They then walked 45 minutes to join the protest at the University of London Union and promptly marched the three kilometres back to Parliament Square.

I lost them along the way because my need to newsgather proved incompatible with their need to march quickly to avoid being kettled.  Every time I stopped to shoot I would run forward to try and catch a glimpse of their distinctive green hard hats, but it became a lost cause.

Kettling

I was looking for the Birmingham students in Parliament Square when I got stuck on Whitehall after riot police moved in and the kettling began.  I managed to scramble behind police lines and had an excellent viewpoint, particularly when I climbed a light standard, but by then my mobile was shooting its last frames.

It was frustrating because I was unable to shoot anything but unwilling to leave a big breaking story.

And so I watched as police slowly let protestors out.  I watched the demonstrators become increasingly annoyed and surge forward by the hundreds to break through the police line, falling on top of each other and over metal barricades.   When I realized the same scene was being repeated at barricades 75 metres behind me, I finally left and narrowly escaped being stuck between two mobs.

Protestors "kettled" by riot police

Protestors "kettled" by riot police

The video I’ve posted on our website contains no reckless student violence, no police brutality and won’t be winning any awards for spot news coverage.   But I hope it does tell the story that I set out to tell —  the story of students from Birmingham who joined thousands from around the country and travelled to London to make a point.  I just wish it had a more visual ending.

I see this morning that The Guardian has posted a similar behind-the-scenes video which is worth checking out.
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