November 29, 2018

The first time I made a security decision, my stomach was in knots from the moment I said yes to the second I got the text confirming the reporter was home safely.

This wasn’t an international story. The reporter took a short car ride to the assignment and would be able to sleep in her own bed that night.

But domestic safety is becoming a bigger deal for journalists, Rebecca Blumenstein, deputy managing editor at the New York Times, said.

“When the Maryland shooting happened, I knew that would be a game- changer for us, as it has been for many news organizations,” she said. “Sadly, it’s something that we have to focus a lot more time on.”

Blumenstein said The New York Times has spent a lot of time building up the necessary infrastructure to keep journalists in the UnitedStates safe.

“A lot of reporters are concerned. They’re glad that we’re taking action, and they want us to do more,” she said.

In times of threats, it’s up to newsroom leaders to make sure the staff is equipped with both the necessary physical training and the understanding that managers have their backs.

“I’ve always said to people, ‘Do not run toward danger,’” said Blumenstein, who managed reporters around the world at The Wall Street Journal as both foreign editor and deputy editor in chief. “I’ve found that the best foreign correspondents have a sixth sense about danger.”

Managers should always emphasize that safety comes first and foremost, she said.

Being a journalist feels different than it did a few years ago — at least for white journalists. Tracie Powell, senior fellow at the Democracy Fund and founder of AllDigitocracy, notes that journalists of color have always thought about safety precautions.

“White journalists aren’t typically challenged on their standing in the community or the beats that they cover. They’ve enjoyed that privilege,” she said, nothing that their privilege has granted access to white journalists that journalists of color do not typically have.

Now that access is being challenged by large communities, including the president of the United States. There’s more that we could do to support one another. Powell said she tells journalists of color that there’s safety in numbers.  

“If you’re a black journalist, Native American, Hispanic, you’re all targets right now,” she said. “When we identify each other out in the field, stay close and protect each other.”  

This can be a time where white journalists look to journalists of color for guidance, Powell said. She hopes this is a time to stand together.

Three black journalists were attacked by this administration without provocation, yet the lion’s share of coverage went to a white male journalist,” she said. “To our own detriment, we are perpetuating some of the undermining of journalists that is going on. That was an opportunity to demonstrate empathy and unity, and yet we failed again because we focused on Jim Acosta.”

As women are still fighting for equality in all corners of journalism, female and nonbinary journalists find themselves pushing to be considered for dangerous assignments, ranging from war reporting to a local protest that might become violent. Hannah Storm, the director at the International News Safety Initiative, said she believes the “macho” industry makes this harder on women.

“The way that the industry has systematically undervalued women, and the way that the industry has been dominated in the upper echelons by men has not helped support women going into dangerous places,” she said. “The male narrative has looked at the woman as the problem.”

This means there are additional risks for women.  

“Whether a woman sends someone in or whether a woman is the person being sent in, if something goes wrong, there is often that finger of blame that gets pointed at the woman,” Storm said. “It has the potential to be much more damaging to that woman’s reputation and to her career because the stakes are higher.”

Storm said that while the buck does have to stop with someone, risk assessments should be a conversation among several people in newsrooms. These decisions cannot be made in a vacuum. The International News Safety Initiative provides resources for all kinds of situations, including protests, natural disasters, war zones and arrests.

Links Worth Clicking


Do Your Homework

Emotional labor has been on my mind a lot this year. While I think I’ve gotten minimally better at asking for help, my friend Katie gave me a master class this week. Katie’s uncle passed away unexpectedly, and she asked me to help with a furniture delivery she was expecting while she was out of town for the funeral. Instead of micromanaging the entire process, she told me who had her apartment keys and forwarded the emails with the tracking numbers. I knew she trusted me to take care of it, and I learned how to truly ask for help. It’s a really busy time of year. What can you ask for help with? And can you truly pass off an entire task? If someone is your emotional labor inspiration, be sure to let them know.

Focus On The Work

In 2017, Miami New Times reporter Brittany Shammas spent five weeks working on a story about would-be inventors who paid a Miami Beach company thousands of dollars to bring their ideas to life. World Patent Marketing ultimately did almost nothing for them, and none of the ideas made money. The Federal Trade Commission deemed the operation a scam and shut it down.

The story took on national significance when President Trump named Matthew Whitaker as his new acting attorney general, who was a paid adviser to World Patent Marketing. Shammas broke the story of his involvement with World Patent Marketing and was cited by major newspapers and lawmakers seeking more information about his role.

Then Planet Money contacted her about collaborating on an episode. She contacted sources, helped with the script and recorded at a studio in Miami. The episode came out about a week later.

“The episode we created is really centered around the experiences of the victims — the ideas and dreams they had and what they lost — and I'm proud to have worked on something that gave them a voice,” Shammas said.

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