November 6, 2017

This article originally appeared in Try This! — Tools for Journalism, our newsletter about digital tools. Want bite-sized news, tutorials and ideas about the best digital tools for journalism in your inbox every Monday? Sign up here.

I fell on my face when I put together online training about digital security for journalists four years ago. Nobody signed up. Reporters told me that they just didn’t think they were likely targets. Then last month, as I urged a group of journalists in Chicago to consider encrypting their web traffic (which is really easy, by the way), one told me that it didn’t matter because “if the government wants your information, they’re gonna get it.”

Phooey. On both counts. Though online attacks are getting more creative, it’s never been easier to protect yourself. And, as a journalist, it’s your duty to keep your newsroom and sources safe.

PROTECT YOURSELF: “There’s no absolute security against anything,” said Dario Salice, a product manager at Google, but he said his team was “super confident” in Google’s ability to protect information in its tools against governments and other malicious attackers. Salice and others from Google shared tips about how journalists can protect themselves online in a one-hour training session on YouTube Live on Nov. 3 (disclosure: a grant from Google News Lab partially funds my position). 

SECURITY TOOLS: Here are a few tips and resources about security from the Google News Lab session and a few more from my own brain. I know this stuff isn't super sexy, but it's our duty to pay attention to it. Please, please, please educate yourself.

  • Jigsaw, a project within Alphabet (Google’s parent company), is building tools to tackle some big security issues. For example, Project Shield can protect news websites from DDoS attacks, and uProxy opens up the internet for people in repressive societies.  
  • The Citizen Lab in Toronto researches aspects of online security and how it intersects with human rights and other topics. It also breaks down topics like 2-step verification and the importance of security into easy-to-understand comics. 
  • Ever heard of VPN? Virtual private networks make public networks, like the Wi-Fi you might be reading this on at your favorite Starbucks, into a more secure network. VPNs can be complicated to set up and understand, so you might want to get started with TunnelBear, a quirky and easy-to-use VPN that offers a limited trial. 
  • I recommended this last week, but cover up your webcam already! I use these Electronic Frontier Foundation reusable stickers to cover the cameras on my laptops. They peel off cleanly when it’s time to Skype with my mom, and they stick right back on later.

KEEP LEARNING: From working terms like nutgrafs and heds to broader concepts like absolute privilege and prior restraint, the journalism world is full of wacky words, industry jargon and nuanced topics. Journalism newbies, teachers and others in need of a refresher should check out the Journalism Dictionary SMART guide on the App Store. Hint: It’s worth spending the three bucks to get the premium version to unlock more terms and fewer advertisements. 

CRUNCHING NUMBERS: It’s devastating that this even exists. But the gathered data is an invaluable way to add context to a tragedy that we watch unfold on a much too frequent basis. Mother Jones has a comprehensive dataset of mass shootings in the United States. 

    BAD NEWS: There are more websites than ever. There are more internet users than ever. But a handful of companies dominate up to 70 percent of online traffic. What will happen to all the great tools, tricks and general freedom we have online when they gobble up even more of the pie? André Staltz, a self-described “open source hacker,” paints a dire picture. 

    PICTURE THIS: Articles and newsletters about digital tools rarely line up with the pictures available on our photo newswire. It’s not like the Associated Press is chock full of compelling pictures about Russian bots. My favorite site for finding great, occasionally weird editorial images is a creative commons image search site. It can look across about a dozen photo sites and surface only the ones you’re safe to use. For projects I’m working on outside of work, I’ve been tinkering with images I got from a reasonable stock image deal from Mashable. (h/t again to my occasional roommate, Hannah Ulm, for that last one)

    LAST WEEK: The people who diminished iPhones and iPads as “toys” when they came out must feel pretty dumb. There’s now a professional-grade video editor for iOS devices, built by industry veterans. I’ll admit that I might have nerded out a little bit about it.

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

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    Ren LaForme is the Managing Editor of He was previously Poynter's digital tools reporter, chronicling tools and technology for journalists, and a producer for…
    Ren LaForme

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