What He Learned: Dallas Ambush

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Sidney Johnson is a graduating senior at the University of North Texas. He is a reporting intern for Central Track, an online publication focused on Dallas life. He was initially assigned to cover the peaceful protests in downtown Dallas when the shooting occurred. He captured video of the chaos and the video went viral. Here is his personal take.

Q: Walk me through the day of the ambush. How did your day start?

Sidney: I was assigned to cover the protests. I got out there about 30 minutes early to get a feel for the place. I met with the two organizers and talked to them to get a few quotes. Then, they started their speeches. There were about five people who spoke. After that, the march started. (Toward the end) we marched to Old Red Museum and they gave their last few words. When walking back toward Belo Garden Park – which is where the march started – that’s when we heard the gunshots. I heard four or five of them first. I saw people running. I didn’t go out to the street. I went into the parking garage. I went to the second floor and that’s where the video picks up. That’s where I see the cop down and I see all the stuff happening and there were more gunshots going off at that time. A cop came up and told us to come down. They led us to the Greyhound station where a lot more people were held up. Police had the main street blocked off. I went to see my editor after that and we wrote the story.

WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT (Video captured by Sidney Johsnon)

Q: How long did it take you to get the post up?

Sidney: it took us a while. When we left from there to go type it up it was about 11PM (CDT). We didn’t actually post it about 5AM (CDT). It was about a 14-15 hour work day.

Q: Was is just instinct that made you start taking video?

Sidney: Oh yeah. It’s our job to account what was happening. If you’re running away from what’s happening, you’re not getting the story. At the same time, I wasn’t going to willingly put myself in danger. That’s why I went into the parking garage instead of going out into the street.

Q: How were you feeling through all of this and after?

Sidney: I grew up in east Dallas and it wasn’t the best side of town. I’ve definitely heard gunshots in my neighborhood. Especially when Katrina happened, there was this influx of people and crime rates spiked. I definitely was worried about the officers, and was wondering how many did he kill and the safety of everybody else. At the same time, I still want to get the best footage I could possibly get without putting myself out front. I did what every other journalist should do. You can’t be scared. I was more anxious of where the person was. I didn’t know where he was. I don’t think I’ve decompressed. I definitely think about it. I think about being in this situation. This hasn’t hit me yet.

Q: Is there anything else you want to add about that day?

Sidney: I definitely want to say that it was a great protest. The officers were stellar. I didn’t see any problems. They were nice and they were friendly. There were a few protestors who were getting rowdy but nobody went overboard. I just want people to focus on what the demonstration was about. We were all there for the event. I don’t want people to lose focus on that. That guy was a crazy gunman.

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Q: Why did you choose Central Track?

Sidney: I like Central Track because I read their stuff a few times in Dallas. I like their style. It is a lot more free and it’s not beholding to corporate donors. I felt like it was the right size where I can say what I need to say without covering up too much of who I was.

Q: Why did you decide to do journalism?

Sidney: I feel like it’s important to put out the truth and pay attention to the truth. Journalists are tasked with doing that. If we’re not giving people the truth, then they won’t have that. They will be operating off of false information and that cannot be good for any society.

Q: What’s next for you career-wise?

Sidney: After graduation, I’m just trying to lock down something stable that allows me to express my type of writing. I will try to speak on social issues with the people. That’s where I want to earn my stripes.

Q: How important are internships and how have they helped your career?

Sidney: Internships are very important because jobs look for that. It shows you got real world experience and you’re not walking in there like you know things when you don’t. What I learned personally is there is a lot more to it than people really think. There are a lot of long nights, a lot of talking, a lot of  walking, getting over your own kind of fears and getting better social skills. I would say that internships showed me a lot of different methods to reporting and my writing.

Q: Do you have any advice for other student journalists?

Sidney: My advice to other student journalists is to get on it whenever you get it. Don’t procrastinate. Never be scared to do your job.  This is for people who want to make a change and want to let people know what is really going on so people can formulate coherent opinions. Society would be stagnant without journalists.

To read Sidney’s published piece on Central Track, click here.

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