American U. Student Balances Classes with Nonstop Global Conflict Reporting
On a Monday evening this past April, journalist Trey Yingst set foot in a part of Baltimore that he said, “looked like there were no laws.”
Amid the furor and fervor sparked by Freddie Gray’s death, he observed hundreds of people smashing store windows, overturning vehicles, looting, setting fires and fighting with each other and the police.
At first, every time he raised his camera to shoot, rioters swarmed, threatening to attack. The press group he was with was targeted and confronted by angry rioters armed with hammers and 40-ounce bottles. A reporter near him was later punched in the face and a second was hit in the head with a bottle, each requiring on-the-scene medical attention and a hospital trip.
Through it all that night and in the days that followed, Yingst captured images, interviews and videos that were subsequently featured by a range of media including ABC News and CNN.
His only real problem, in the end, was that he missed most of his final exams.
As an undergraduate student at American University in Washington D.C., Yingst balances a full course load with basically nonstop global conflict reporting. The latter has brought him enormous exposure.
It’s well-earned. Principally, through a news site he co-founded News2Share, the broadcast journalism major has provided on-the-scene photos, videos and news stories from a variety of war zones, political hotspots and areas of unrest.
Along with Baltimore, these areas include Ferguson (after Michael Brown’s death and the grand jury decision), Ecuador, Israel, Ukraine (during the seminal 2014 presidential election), Uganda (not long after passage of the country’s controversial Anti-Homosexuality Act) and the Rwanda-Congo border.
Last year, Yingst, a rising senior from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was the youngest credentialed member of the press to cover the fighting along the Gaza Strip. He also has been credentialed on day passes in the White House, Congress and the U.S. Department of State. His work has been published or aired by NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post, and he’s a frequent commentator on HLN, BBC and Canada’s CTV.
Yingst is 21 years old.
Age, though, is just a number, and Yingst is adamant that his student status is almost wholly separate from his journalistic identity. But the two do align and present unique challenges at times.
For example, as he experienced with Baltimore, “Breaking news situations have a way of happening during finals time.”
Meanwhile, in a time of increased unrest and riotousness at home and abroad, Yingst says journalists need to increase the speed and broaden the scope of their conflict coverage. Here are some related perspectives he shared during a pair of recent interviews, along with a few tips linked to staying safe and gathering information amid war and strife.
Mesh the Fourth Estate with the first person. Working with co-founder and fellow AU student Ford Fischer, Yingst has set up News2Share to operate like a mainstream news organization — albeit one with a flair for front lines reporting and telling off-the-beaten-path stories. He cites VICE as a model.
According to Yingst, one of News2Share’s main goals moving forward is to help build a more participatory news cycle. In his words, “We want to be the first outlet known for regularly taking viewer-submitted footage and integrating it into newscasts and news articles.”
To that end, a prominent part of the News2Share homepage is its Submissions link – soliciting tips and raw footage from anyone about anything “you think the world needs to see.”
“Oftentimes when breaking news occurs and journalists rush to the scenes, they’ve already missed the actual news,” he said. “So when a car crash happens and news organizations want to cover it, by the time they arrive, people have already been pried loose, taken to the hospital, the flames are extinguished and they’re just left with an empty, charred car. You then have many reporters who turn around on camera and say, ‘Earlier here today, there was a car accident.’ With News2Share, we want audiences to see what’s happening in the moments right after or even during the crash. The way we do that is by expanding the integration of viewer footage into our newscasts.”
From Yingst’s vantage point, this type of footage has remained mostly untapped by the mainstream broadcast media, save for airings of silly viral videos, a few amateur news video sensations (such as the Walter Scott shooting) and CNN’s iReports. Yet, its potential to provide viewers with new perspectives and connect with their new news consumption habits is enormous.
“We want to get closer and closer to the news,” Yingst said last year during a TEDx talk at AU titled “The Fourth Estate Through the First Person.” “… [Audiences] don’t have to rely on the reporter who’s standing 50 feet away from the event. They don’t have to rely on that news helicopter that’s flying around telling you to care about that little speck that’s supposed to be a car accident. … [Through bystander videos] you can see the human suffering up close and thus you can feel emotion for it. You can care about it more.”
He cites Syria as an example. In 2013, reports surfaced alleging Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was employing chemical weapons against his own people.
“It was reported, but no one really cared about it,” Yingst told me. “It wasn’t until a few citizen journalists, a couple of guys with cameras, were able to get some footage of the aftermaths of the chemical attacks that really showed the suffering up close and personal that people started to care. We could no longer deny that it was happening because it was right in front of us.”
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