Safety Tips for Media Workers, No Matter Your Beat
By Justin Sablich
Safety concerns have always been a part of being a journalist, or any media worker, especially for those working from volatile parts of the world. But today’s highly-polarized political climate in the United States has put a renewed focus on the potential perils that come with the job.
“I have been a journalist for nearly 30 years. I have never seen this level of concern about any domestic political event,” Frank Smyth, a former war correspondent and the director of Global Journalist Security, said prior to the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Animosity by some toward the media has been ramped up and on display at events involving media workers since the 2016 election. In one recent example, CNN’s Jim Acosta was harassed while covering a Trump rally in Tampa Bay, Fla., in early August. Some in attendance got alarmingly close to Acosta, flashing middle fingers and chanting “CNN sucks” during a live segment.
“I’m very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt,” Acosta Tweeted from the event.
Whether you are in a war zone, covering a political rally, or commuting to and from the office, here are a few things to keep in mind that can help you stay safe.
Be Mindful of Your Appearance
There are many situations where you want to be easily identified as a journalist, like when showing credentials is necessary to access an event, or when covering a violent protest, where you do not want police to mistake you for a protester.
But given how some view those who work in the media, you might not want to always identify yourself as a working media professional when appearing in the general public. So be mindful of when your company ID or press card is visible and know when it is necessary to show it and when it isn’t.
“Use local laws or your own judgment when deciding whether to keep your card visible. If your card is not visible, keep it where it is easily accessible, such as your shirt pocket,” advises irex.org.
Be Smart When Sharing Information and Content
If you’re covering a particularly sensitive event or story, be careful about sharing your location on Twitter, Facebook or any other social media platform. There are also a number of smartphone apps that can help protect your privacy and keep your data and any content you collect in the field secure.
“Tech-savvy reporters, including many who focus on digital privacy and surveillance, routinely use tools that encrypt their online communications end-to-end—that is, in such a way that not even the company delivering messages can read their contents,” writes Kaveh Waddell in The Atlantic.
CameraV password-protects and encrypts the photos and videos you capture, allowing you to securely share your content with colleagues. Signal and WhatsApp also use encryption to keep text and other exchanges secure.
Stay Connected With Colleagues
Always let your editors, colleagues and close family know when and where you are traveling. If possible, avoid traveling alone and stay connected with other journalists who are covering the same event.
“Know who is on your team, implement a buddy system and know your environment and surroundings because things can change very quickly,” says Danny Spriggs, vice president of global security at the Associated Press.
If it’s a particularly volatile situation, come up with a specific safety plan with your co-workers or other journalists you are friendly with on the ground.
“Know where to retreat to if something goes wrong, where the nearest medical facility is and how you can get there,” Spriggs says.
Stranger Danger: Meet in Public
Think twice before agreeing to meet any source in a private location.
“When you meet a subject for the first time, don’t meet that person in a secluded place. If you develop a relationship and begin to trust them, you can move elsewhere,” writes Donna DeCesare, a documentary photographer.
Female journalists should be extra mindful of these kinds of situations.
“For women, reporting risks come not only in the form of stray artillery fire and government persecution, but in being alone with men,” writes Christie Chisholm on CJR.org.
Justin Sablich is a freelance journalist and social media strategist as well as a contributing writer and editor at The New York Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JustinSablich.
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