Journalists, it's unethical to ignore your online security

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From zealous U.S. Border Patrol agents to the election of a president who is openly hostile toward the press, 2016 felt like a turning point for journalism security.

“It felt like there was a much wider recognition that, ‘hey, even if I’m not reporting on national security stuff, people actually are targeting journalists,’” said Ryan Pitts, tech lead for OpenNews.

OpenNews moved to focus its next convene — where developers, designers and journalists come together in intensive events that result in open source tools for journalists, like NPR’s Lunch Box or the Marshall Project’s Klaxon — on security for journalists.

Building security tools in a few days proved to be an impossible task. But building documentation for better security wasn’t.

Rather than providing resources, which there was already plenty of, OpenNews focused on making the “accidental experts” in newsrooms more knowledgeable and effective.

“Newsrooms by and large, especially small and regional papers, don’t have the resources to invest in formalized training on this,” Pitts said. “And so it falls to a more peer training model,” where the “nerdiest person on the reporting team” or someone who shared a tool once and became known as an “expert” provides most of the training.

The Field Guide to Security Training in the Newsroom (a collaboration between OpenNews staff; Amanda Hickman, formerly of Buzzfeed Open Lab; Kevin O’Gorman, integration manager at The Globe and Mail and a slew of contributors) is full of useful information about topics like setting up secure messaging apps, password management and two-factor authentication. It also provides necessary tips and resources for those accidental experts sharing it, like lesson plans and games.

As someone who has unsuccessfully pushed security for journalists for years to little avail (I look at the click-through metrics on these newsletter links under a microscope), I’m particularly chuffed about that aspect of the field guide. Most journalists I talk to seem uninterested in their personal security.

Pitts said it was “not a thing that we regularly discussed” in the newsroom he worked for prior to joining OpenNews.

But he now thinks of digital security as an ethical issue.

“Having an avenue for a source to be able to share things with me securely, that’s just ethical reporting,” he said. “Even if I’m an education reporter and someone in the school district is my source, I need to find an ethical way for them to communicate with me.”

MORE ON THAT: Even reporters who make the most of security tools find themselves in the midst of rampant online harassment. PEN America just published a helpful field guide for dealing with it. The site has separate sections for journalists, fans of journalists and employers with plenty of tips and definitions. For example, there’s a section on how and why to document online harassment complete with a guide to saving and storing screenshots. There’s even an exhaustive section on self-care.

POLL VAUNTING: None too soon, the next AP Stylebook will include a section on polls and surveys. The new section recommends against using poll results as the basis for an article. Polls are useful, said David Scott, who supervises the AP’s polling unit, “[b]ut the 2016 election was a reminder that polls aren’t perfect. They’re unquestionably a piece of the story, but never the whole story.” The update is already available to digital subscribers (the best way to use the Stylebook because search bars are superior to flipping pages).

TAKE NOTE: From Evernote to Google Docs, Apple Notes to SimpleNote, I’ve tried out many different note taking apps over the past decade. I may have just found a new winner. Google Keep, which I realize is five years old at this point, offers a handy combination of functionality and collaborative features. Install the Chrome plugin, click it to save an article and write collaborative notes on it with a colleague. Or use the app to draw a sketch on the go with your device and access it from your desktop later on. It’s hard to overstate how out of the way this tool feels. (h/t to Dr. Burkhard Luber for showing me the light)

GOOD QUESTION: Between the pop-ups, autoplay videos, distracting ads, off-site clickbait posing as articles, obscure menu links and grinding load times, local newspaper websites are among the worst online. CityLab asks and answers a very good question: “Why must newspaper websites suck so damn much?”

CODE RED: It must be Handbooks and Field Guides Week. The European Journalism Centre just released a chapter about reporting on algorithms from its upcoming Data Journalism Handbook and it’s a doozy. Nicholas Diakopoulos from Northwestern explains the massive and growing effect that algorithms have on our daily lives and provides resources for reporting on them.

IN THE GREEN: I have mixed feelings about single-purpose data sites like Trump Golf Count (and, to a lesser extent, the Iraq Body Count, which has been at it since I was in high school). It’s an interesting look at how much time and money our President Donald Trump spends on the links and the site is even transparent about what it knows and doesn't know. But the data collection doesn’t seem entirely scrupulous (the total dollar amount once dropped $50 million in one day) and the owner of the site doesn’t provide any information about herself to establish credibility. What do you think?

IN MY WORLD: I’ll be in Manhattan later this week to celebrate the James Beard Media Awards. If you’d like to meet up sometime between Thursday night and Saturday afternoon, let me know! I’ve also been thinking a lot about those newsprint tariffs and how they’re affecting my friends and colleagues. Let us know if you’re hearing anything in your area.

Try This! is powered by Google News Initiative. It is also supported by the American Press Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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