Summer of stories: Why Extinction Rebellion is a local story for all of us — in many ways
Greg Martin is a photojournalist at CornwallLive. In this week’s Summer of Stories, he shares his encounters with local people arrested in London as part of the Extinction Rebellion protests…
What was this story about?
Meeting the ordinary people at their homes in Cornwall who were arrested during the Extinction Rebellion protests on Waterloo Bridge in London in April.
How did you find out about this story?
The protests made national news and were just coming to an end in London, so most of the protesters from Cornwall were heading home. I knew two who had been arrested, and pitched the idea to one of them to see if they thought it was possible.
Can you tell us about what work went on prior to publication?
To keep it newsworthy, it all had to happen very quickly. I had the idea on the Wednesday and spent the afternoon trying to work out if I could find enough protesters from Cornwall to make it a viable story. I wanted to take portraits of each of them in their homes, so I figured I needed at least 5–6 different people who had been arrested and were willing to take part to make it a decent, varied set of photographs.
I then had to win over the confidence of all of them to convince them to let me into their homes and speak frankly about being arrested for the first time. On the Thursday and Friday I spent the days travelling around Cornwall interviewing each of the arrested protesters at their homes, and taking portraits of them.
Then, from the hours of interviews and lots of photographs, I edited it all into a photo story on the Saturday, ready for its publication on the Sunday. In terms of national news, the protests were officially ended by Extinction Rebellion on the Friday.
What was the reaction after publication?
There seemed to be a mainly positive reaction to the story, despite it being a divisive topic. After seeing the protesters in the news for the past week, people in Cornwall could now see their neighbours, doctors, waitresses, builders, in their own homes, explaining why they put everything on hold and decided to be arrested for the first time in their lives.
I was also very pleased with the reaction from the people involved, who shared the story and told me they were very relieved that it was presented in a fair and accurate way.
And I was pleased with the positive feedback from my peers in the media, especially some of the top London press photographers who covered the protests, and then shared my story saying that it was an interesting follow up about some of the protesters they had shot.
Why will you remember this story?
I will remember it because it was an extremely intense three days of work, and doing it to the standard I wanted it to be meant putting in a lot of extra hours.
Also, after finding that many of my people-based photo stories were getting far less page views than my abandoned building photo stories in the lead up to this, to see one of my photo stories purely about people perform so well was massively rewarding.
Did this story tell you anything about local journalism? If so, what?
I think it told me that local journalism is relevant and important, and can be interesting to readers who are not local. Only local journalism could do a story like this — for the nationals it would be too niche. So in some ways, only local journalism could dig deeper and humanise the national story about the protests.
Is there any advice you could give a would-be journalist based on this story?
There are some extremely interesting and important stories in very ordinary homes.