Information to Help Photojournalists Stay Safe on the Front Lines

Becoming a photojournalist may have its perks, but the form of employment is increasingly becoming a high risk endeavor. With suicide bombing, information technology breaches, and various other hostile situations on the rise, The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has compiled and illustrated a security guide to support newcomers and seasoned professionals who are considering or are presently working in the photojournalism field. Take a look at the six part series below:

Digital technology has reinvented the world we live in and brought new opportunities. The area of photojournalism has been effectively reshaped by the ease and speed of delivering stories from the worlds hot zones. The number of independent photojournalists has risen but they often receive little newsroom support.

Women working in the field are especially vulnerable and face a higher risk of being victimized; however, establishing an emergency preparedness plan can help reduce the risk and, in some cases, prevent them altogether. Molly Bingham, an experienced journalist offers up these tips, many of which can be used by either women or men:

  • Know your boundaries and what you are willing to put yourself through to get the story.
  • Be mindful of local environment and cultures such as the way women are expected to dress and conduct themselves.
  • Find a trustworthy assistant that speaks the language.

A crucial step to mitigating the risk is to understand the culture, the society, and interpret the nuances of gestures. Try to blend in. If you’re a woman, be extra careful about the culture and rights concerning women in the country you’re in.

Secure Your Data

When working as a photojournalist, you are effectively trading information in the form of audio-video, text, or photography. Keeping that information secure is crucial. Try to minimize the amount of information you need to protect in order to make your life easier.

Data security tips:

  • Use full disk encryption on your hard drive
  • Use a cheap throwaway phone. Only put minimum information on it.
  • Use a “Noah’s Ark” memory stick and keep it hidden. Also encrypt the contents of the memory stick using specific software.
  • Use a really strong password. Try using a whole phrase for a password, adding random punctuation and capital letters. You can find more tips on this here.

Read as much as you can about the place you are going to work in. Speak to other journalists who recently came out of there. War correspondent Sebastian Junger advises young photojournalists to always wear a bulletproof vest, have a medical kit, and use a helmet. Try to avoid carrying detailed maps, binoculars, or other items that would make you look like a spy in the eventuality of your capture.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous locations for conflict journalist due to its high rate of organized crime and drug trafficking. Dealing with these types of conflicts takes a certain type of know-how and preparation. As Javier Arturo Valdez Cardenas explained in the video above, a reporter must be very skilled at choosing what to publish and what not to publish. The criminals come in many disguises–kingpins, police, government officials, even ordinary people–and it is very difficult to distinguish the bad from the good. When dealing with organised crime and corruption, try to assess the risks involved with each of your stories and only publish as much as you safely can.

Photojournalist Frank Smyth proposes four basic principles to keep you safe:

  •  Be fully informed.
  •  Be fully prepared.
  •  Take care of each other.
  •  Take care of yourself.

Know why you are committed to your job. Be honest with yourself. This is an excerpt from the Journalist Security Guide, it will help you make your own important decisions when facing difficult scenarios. Even though you can understand and assume the risk of being in a conflict zone, keep in mind most of the consequences of your death would fall upon the ones you love.

“The reasons for taking risks, the main reason to go out to a front line is to have an experience. It’s self-referential, which is fine, but we really have to be clear that what we’re doing when we’re at a very front line position taking yet another photo of a guy shooting a gun is that we are out there to have an experience. It isn’t really about human suffering and it really isn’t about the news and the right to know and all that, it’s about us. I think we need to be honest about what it is we’re crawling out there for and if we are honest, we’ll actually be safer.”

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