Physical & online security: A proactive approach


Journalists often find themselves in challenging and high-risk situations, but there are ways to put safety first and do your job accurately. Chris Post, executive director of International Media Security Group, photojournalist and former first responder shared a few tips and tricks for journalists to work better and safer as they navigate through their assignments, emphasizing the need to be proactive instead of reactive

Here are some highlights from his presentation:

Risk Assessment 

Journalists need to figure out the possible risks associated with covering a situation, not only on them but their team, organization, and fellow colleagues. These risks can be major or minor based on the impact of the story. PETE is a useful model for to assess risks:


  • Are you and your team competent and physically able to perform the given task?
  • Who are you going to interact with (e.g. source, members of media, law enforcement)? Are any of them going to be problematic?


  • Where is the location of the assignment (e.g. remote, foreign country, hostile)?
  • What is the weather condition in this location?
  • Do you have reliable transportation and accommodation?


  • What is the assignment?
  • What are the main hazards associated with this story?


  • What extra equipment do you require to make it easier for you to work in the environment (e.g. rain boots, power convertor, extra notepads)?


Situational Awareness

While PETE helps journalists identify the ways to make it safer and easier to report on a story, situational awareness helps you identify the hazards in PETE:

  • Is there anything around you that poses a threat to your health and safety?
  • Is the threat big enough that you should stop working?
  • Is there anything you can do to safely reduce that threat to keep working?

Situational awareness is a mindset that requires you to be observant of your surroundings in order to make decisions based on your judgment of how a certain situation could impact you.

Verbal De-Escalation

When somebody is potentially feeling aggressive or showing signs of aggression towards you, you need to calm them to reduce the possibility of conflict occurring. Verbal de-escalation is a technique which adheres to active listening and a specific communication strategy to prevent a heated situation from escalating. Here are the five key principles:

  • Give the person your undivided attention. Turning away from them or not paying close attention could lead to escalation or physical assault.
  • Be non judgemental and show empathy. 
  • Allow silence. It’s ok to have long pauses in the active listening process. This shows the other person that you are interested in what they have to say.
  • Use restatement to clarify messages. This helps the upset person confirm that you are paying attention to what they are saying.
  • Never say “calm down.” This invalidates the feelings of the upset person.

If verbal de-escalation is not working, use situational awareness to escape from the situation. Do not turn your back on the aggressor and be observant of their body language to prevent violence.

Planning for Risky Assignments

Hazards associated with risky assignments can be evaluated through PETE, however, planning ahead is the next step when reporting in dangerous situations. This helps ensure that there are procedures in place if conditions on the field get out of hand.

A helpful model to consider is HARPSS:


  • What is happening?
  • What conditions pose a hazard to you and your team?


  • Who are you working with and what support can they offer?


  • Is there a likelihood that the hazards will cause you and your team harm?


  • What are you going to do in case something goes wrong?
  • The purpose of a plan is to give you confidence and stability, increase the transparency of your work, and leave no room for assumptions between personnel and managers.


  • What can you do to mitigate and reduce the occurrence of injury or conflict?


  • What is your idea in place to accomplish the given task?


BBC also has a risk assessment form that can be used for high risk assignments.

Digital Security 

Journalists can become victims of non-physical threats such as hacking, cyber stalking, and surveillance which can lead to physical threats like murder and hostage taking. Here are a few tips journalists should keep in mind to protect themselves and the information they are responsible for:

  • Be aware of Pegasus. This is a spyware that allows somebody full access to your mobile device. They can listen to your calls, track your location, and retrieve account information. It can be installed through ways such as a missed call or link in a text message.
  • Prevent your electronic devices from viruses. Install updates when they are available. Do not auto-download files from messaging apps. Consider downloading iVerify; a virus detection app which protects electronic devices from digital threats.
  • Protect your accounts. Turn on two factor authentication. Create back-up copies of sensitive information. Be mindful of what information is stored in each account and what you are sharing about yourself online. Regularly review ‘account activity.’
  • Secure your device. Lock devices with long personal identification numbers or passwords. Backup your devices regularly in case they are destroyed, lost, or stolen. Delete sensitive information regularly. Don’t leave devices unattended in public. Set up your device to allow you to wipe any data remotely if stolen.