Liberal Studies Majors Double as Journalists, Cover United Nations Climate Summit

by Chris Crow

Sometime during the Spring of 2009, Alex Kelly, then a junior in the Liberal Studies program, decided he wanted to cover the United Nations climate summit taking place later that year in Copenhagen, Denmark. He began to look for publications which might be interested in his coverage. Around that time he asked me if I might be interested in coming along as a photographer. I immediately agreed, and we set about looking for ways to make it happen. We sent emails to several online news outfits, and began looking for local stories to cover as practice. By the end of May, Seattle's InvestigateWest had agreed to back our application for United Nations press accreditation.

So we put together a team of four, brought on Mark Malijan as a second photographer and Blair Kelly as a videographer, and applied to the UN for press accreditation. Alex was the only member of the team to hear anything back from the UN, but his application was accepted, and the four of us arrived in Copenhagen believing that at least one of us would be able to report from inside the conference, while the rest of us would cover the mayhem outside. Our expectations were somewhat crushed, however, when upon our arrival at the Bella Center Alex was told his accreditation had been rescinded. UN Secretariat staff told Alex that the number of personal media accompanying delegates from various nations had been much larger than anticipated, and therefore some accreditations had been revoked.

Here's a link to Alex's article describing the process:

As it turned out, being barred from the conference center wasn't such a bad thing--aside from the massive inflow of food and outflow of sewage, very little was actually happening in there. Speeches were made, proposals were aired weak to begin with, then further watered down. Outside the conference, however, a torrent of anger and mischeif fed by the disenfranchised youth of Europe had gathered to face off against the impressively well-prepared Danish Police. According to one officer, around half a billion dollars had been spent over the last year to ready the 'Politi' for the COP 15. Six thousand officers in full riot gear, equiped with tear gas, batons, and attack dogs, worked day and night for the two-week duration of the conference.

Our team worked 12 to 16 hours daily to cover all that we could. We documented five major protest marches, including acts of vandalism by demonstrators and violence by police. We interviewed several figures of specific interest to the Pacific Northwest, including Governor Christine Gregoire and incumbent Mayor Greg Nickels. We broke a story of alleged corruption and oppression by the Ethiopian dictator who had come to Copenhagen to represent 52 African nations. We met the Yes-Men, a group of anti-corporate pranksters, who gave us one of their latest pieces of mischief, a "Survivaball." During one protest march, Mark was pepper-sprayed and clubbed with a baton, and during two others I was arrested and held once for three and once for ten hours.

On the last day of the conference, we managed to talk our way into the Bella Center at last, only to find that we really hadn't been missing much all along. Most of the press were barred from the main meeting room, and gathered instead around televisions streaming footage of the main stage. As the Summit came to a close, consensus was that nothing meaningful had been accomplished after all. But for the four of us, something very meaningful had been accomplished. We had experienced first-hand what it takes to give oneself a live-action crash course in international journalism, and discovered that even at the highest level of global politics, the line between a curious student and a professional journalist can be blurred and bent.