Members of the free press assume more than their share of danger. Reporting from a conflict zone can mean being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Covering health epidemics and natural disasters means possible exposure to deadly conditions.
But today, in many places, journalists can be targets. It’s a “completely different era,” said Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Most large news organizations no longer have a network of overseas bureaus, says CPJ’s deputy director, Robert Mahoney. As a result, local and freelance journalists such as Daesh victims Steven Sotloff and James Foley step in to share the stories and experiences of people living in conflict areas or remote places. But how can they mitigate the risks?
Simon and Mahoney say the most important first step is for reporters to assess the risks they will face before going into the field. Are they going somewhere they could be detained or jailed? To a place where they could be physically attacked? Or is the greatest danger simply being caught in the crossfire?
Once they have done that kind of research and understand the risks, they will know what precautions and equipment they need.
Journalists who are not native to an area must also consider the safety of the locals with whom they interact. Many local residents take huge risks by working with outsiders and often keep such activities secret, even from their own families.
“We can leave. We can get on a plane and get out. They have to stay,” Mahoney said.
The second step is to have an emergency communications plan in place. If something does go wrong, who will know and what will they do about it?
“Those are the most basic steps journalists need to take to keep themselves safe,” Simon said. “One stems from the other.”