WASHINGTON — Journalists work in dangerous conditions where security is a serious concern. Evolving technologies and newsroom cutbacks, however, have resulted in more reporters on the frontlines of news gathering as freelancers and stringers, working without the institutional support long enjoyed by staff journalists. As a result, the Committee to Protect Journalists - an independent organization that promotes press freedom worldwide - says they need new ways to stay safe.
CPJ says the profession and the threats facing journalists have changed dramatically in the last decade. Digital technology allows a great many “citizen journalists” to be out in the field on their own, and many governments, and other groups, increasingly take lethal action against anyone attempting to document events.
In Syria, experienced American war correspondent Marie Colvin was killed in February along with French photographer Remi Ochlik.
McClatchy Newspapers’ Roy Gutman said journalists often must take risks to cover a story. Speaking from Istanbul via Skype, he said that even those who know the rules, though, cannot always protect themselves.
“Journalists have realized that they are targets, and they are not, you know, protected by really anybody, and they better find their own protection,” said Gutman.
VOA foreign correspondent Peter Heinlein was detained in Ethiopia in May while trying to interview protesters during a demonstration. He said journalism is definitely becoming a more dangerous proposition.
"When you go out into the field, you know you’re going into an arena, an environment, that is increasingly sophisticated at flummoxing journalists, at stopping them, preventing them from covering the stories,” said Heinlein.
Prepping for safety
CPJ’s new Journalist Security Guide outlines basic preparedness for new journalists, such as entry and exit planning when going into dangerous situations, navigating foreign bureaucracies in cases of injury or arrest, and threat assessment for journalists of all experience levels.
It also offers advice on digital security. CPJ senior advisor Frank Smyth said that's something about which journalists only recently have started to become aware.
“… that they need to protect the information on their hard drives, that they need to be able to protect their communications, whether an email or by telephone, cell phones with sources,” said Smyth.
The guide also stresses the importance of emotional self-care - recognizing and dealing with the trauma that can come with hazardous assignments - up to, and including, sexual assault.
ABC News’ chief foreign correspondent Martha Raddatz said a good journalist must have empathy, as well as ways to cope with painful memories of things they have seen in the field.
“Just the other day, I was driving someplace with my family and there was a little kid running around, and my daughter said something, 'look, take my baby, take my baby,' and I said, oh, that brought back a memory of Ethiopia in the early 80s during the famine and remembering that women were trying to hand me their babies because they were so starving and near death.”
She says it is then - when journalists are “in the moment” - that they must be most cautious.
Raddatz agrees that security is a core function of being a journalist. She said the CPJ guide provides important tips on how they can protect themselves, their sources and their work. But in the end, she said, journalists must have their own sense of security - in order to do their job and live to tell about it.