Reporta, out on iOS and Android devices, helps journalists remain safe while reporting from hazardous areas. (Photos via IWMF)
Reporta, out on iOS and Android devices, helps journalists remain safe while reporting from hazardous areas. (Photos via IWMF)

Journalism, never the safest profession to begin with, has only gotten more hazardous in recent years. But a new app just might help cut down on the dangers, especially for those working in isolated and hostile areas.

Citing the rise of Internet censorship, repressive regimes and terrorist organizations, the Committee to Protect Journalists in April said the industry was in the midst of "the most deadly and dangerous period for journalists in recent history." In 2014, 61 media workers were killed on the job; the latest tally from CPJ shows 221 journalists languishing in cells around the world.

The deepening dangers of journalism are clear to Elisa Lees Muñoz. From her perch as executive director of the International Women's Media Foundation, Muñoz has instructed, celebrated and memorialized journalists who report from hazardous regions, sometimes at great risk to themselves. One day about two years ago, she realized there might be something the foundation could do to make the profession safer.

"We know that these journalists around the world constantly have their cellphones in their hands," Muñoz said. "I thought, 'wouldn't it be great if we could create an app that would actually not only help journalists do their work but actually help them stay safe?' We started looking into how we might do that."

The result was Reporta, a free new app from the International Women's Media Foundation that provides journalists with a quick and convenient lifeline when they're out in the field. Its development was funded by a Howard G. Buffett Foundation grant and built in partnership with the International Center for Journalists and Global Journalist Security.

The app, which is available for Android and iOS devices, features a trio of functions that allow journalists to stay in touch with their contacts while reporting in hazardous areas:

  • An automated and customizable check-in system that lets correspondents keep their editors and others appraised of their whereabouts and well-being.
  • A feature that lets journalists alert their colleagues when they're in danger.
  • A last-resort "SOS" button for emergencies.

Using Reporta, journalists can decide which of their contacts receive the check-ins and alerts. The potential recipients are divided into three groups, or "circles," with varying degrees of public exposure: The "private circle" (for a journalist's closest contacts), the "public circle" (for organizations like CPJ or IWMF) and the "social circle" (a journalist's Facebook or Twitter accounts). The app is available in six languages, including English, Spanish and French, and all communication that passes through Reporta is encrypted from end to end.

"It's really just about hitting all three of those at once really quickly," Muñoz said. "We know that journalists aren't always going to have time to spend writing a message. So, for example, if a journalist in Mexico believes that it's beneficial to let their followers on Twitter know if they've missed a check-in, that could happen automatically."

If a journalist misses a check-in or sends an SOS alert, the app automatically locks up to prevent intruders from tampering with the communication. Reporta can be reopened by a predesignated "unlock contact" once the journalist reaches safety again.

Muñoz stresses that the app isn't a silver bullet for journalistic safety. Instead, she says, the app should be used in concert with other best-practices to diminish the risk of reporting.

"The journalists that we work with, specifically freelance journalists, ask for dangerous environments training," Muñoz said. "They are really desperate for support to deal with the hostile environments that they're working in everywhere that we've gone."