As thousands of students crowded the streets around the Penn State campus on Wednesday night, protesting the University’s decision to fire beloved football coach Joe Paterno, the mob quickly chose a common enemy: the media.
Nearly 100 members of the media were at the Penn Stater Conference Hotel covering the board of trustees’ announcement when word quickly spread of a student demonstration developing nearby.
Following the press conference, local reporters as well as news crews in from Pittsburgh and elsewhere rushed to downtown State College, where a growing mob of students had gathered. And things quickly turned ugly.
“At first, the students were just milling about peacefully, but, as time went on, the crowd grew more unruly and more destructive,” WPXI‘s Courtney Brennan told TVSpy today via email. “I don’t know why, but the crowd’s anger over the firing of Paterno…quickly turned into hatred of the media.”
A group of demonstrators teamed up to tip over a WTAJ news van, escalating the protest to a full-blown riot and sending journalists running for safety.
After the WTAJ van was tipped, protestors targeted other satellite trucks parked in the area and began throwing things at nearby reporters and photographers.
“Students kept shouting threats at us and kept saying they were going to tip our satellite truck next,” Brennan recalls. “My photographer, Mike Drewecki, was pelted with bottles, rocks, mud and other objects.”
“INSANE,” WJAC reporter Brittany Boyer tweeted last night, describing the scene in downtown State College. “Students are blaming media for Joe Pa’s firing. We were chased downtown and had to drive wrong way on 1way street. THAT bad.”
Although a handful of stations had their equipment damaged in the riot, there were no major injuries to report.
“Going to Penn State and seeing riots in the past, I thought I was prepared,” Boyer told TVSpy this afternoon via email, following a 24-hour shift. “But I could not believe all the blame and focus on the media. There were multiple times I was concerned about our safety. I kept telling our other reporter it felt like we were reporting in another country. You never expect to be concerned about your safety and students wanting to harm you or your car so it was something I never experienced before.”
Brennan summed up how the media navigated the hostile situation when she tweeted to a colleague early Thursday morning, “It’s in our blood, babe…we can handle ourselves in this kind of stuff.”