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Reporting safely panel offers tips for journalists

Reporter in Gear

As essential workers and first responders, journalists face increased threats and risks online and in real life as they cover natural disasters, mass shootings, the COVID-19 pandemic, violent extremism, police violence and increased civil unrest in communities. As part of the communities they cover, journalists experience trauma themselves in the course of serving the public.

To address these risks, the Reed College of Media hosted “Reporting Safely in Violent and Virulent Times,” a virtual panel and corresponding workshops to provide background, context and resources to help local journalists, newsroom leaders and journalism students adapt to some of the risks and new realities facing journalists. The offerings were held during fall semester and made possible by College funding from the Ogden Newspapers Seminar Series. 

The virtual panel included Dr. Michelle Ferrier, the founder of TrollBusters.com; Diane Foley from the James Foley Foundation; Sally Stapleton, global religion editor at The Associated Press; and David Shribman, formerly the executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who discussed the state of the media in current crisis contexts and identified professional risks. Panelists also offered advice on strengthening journalism safety and resilience in newsrooms and communities, as well as addressed emerging ethical and legal issues facing journalists in crisis reporting.

Ten key takeaways were compiled from the event, including:

  1. Journalists must know how to do in-depth risk assessment whenever they approach any kind of story. They need to know what the risks are, whether online, physical, emotional and/or psychological.
  2. When journalists receive a threat or a vicious note, they should tell someone in authority (e.g. the police or FBI), and certainly their supervisor. They should not just “shrug it off.”
  3. Journalists and other media employees should not hesitate to report if they see or hear something suspicious in their workplace or while reporting elsewhere.
  4. Students and professional journalists need to protect themselves in digital spaces, especially from potential harassment on social media, and be mindful of what they post. Journalists should know how to protect their own and their family’s personal information online.
  5. It’s important to be aware of the potential backlash from writing and posting a sensitive story online. No matter what a journalist’s story involves, it may offend someone, who may publicly respond. Journalists cannot take such criticisms personally, but should not hesitate to ask others for help, if needed, especially when targeted by “trolls” (i.e. persons who intentionally post inflammatory comments to provoke or intimidate others).
  6. Journalists should have a formal buddy system in place when reporting on a story. Reporters and photographers who go out together should always make sure they know where the other person is.
  7. The journalism profession needs to be reoriented to be much more inclusive and diverse in its newsrooms and in the stories being covered and the sources used for them.
  8. Journalists perform important and necessary work for our communities, country and world, so it’s important that they not become discouraged or disillusioned about their work.
  9. Just as with any stressful profession, it’s important that journalists take care of their mental health by taking time for themselves, spending time with family and friends and perhaps taking up a hobby that allows them to disconnect from media and unwind.
  10. There are resources available, such as the ones listed below, to help journalists learn more about performing their work more safely:

Watch the archived panel discussion.