A source of safety information for journalists
Journalism Source of Safety, J-SOS, is now publicly accessible. J-SOS is an online toolkit that offers trauma-informed and identity-aware journalist safety checklists, tips, gear advice, and other necessary security information for all journalists, including freelancers and students, with an emphasis on equity and ethics. It is currently available in English, but I hope to build out the tool to offer additional languages in future.
As I wrap up my RJI Fellowship, I am thinking of 24-year-old Spectrum News reporter Dylan Lyons who was shot and killed in Orlando on Feb. 22 while reporting on a shooting. Lyons — like so many journalists whose assignments require them to be in unsafe situations and places — was just trying to do his job of reporting for a community when that job turned deadly. On Feb. 13, Michigan State University journalism students and recent graduates working in news media were faced with the horrible reality of having to report on a mass shooting that they were also experiencing. For the last few weeks, I’ve been checking in on a Turkey-based photojournalist friend who had to leave her young daughter and husband behind to photograph the aftermath of devastating earthquakes that caused 47,000 deaths (as of this writing) in the region. These kinds of experiences are becoming increasingly common for journalists and the general public as climate change increases the intensity of environmental disasters and lax gun laws in the U.S. allow more shootings each year.
The work of journalists often requires us to be in dangerous positions, running towards documenting events others run from. Journalism often demands that we pick up cameras and notebooks to cover the very tragedies we too are experiencing alongside our friends, families and communities.
Journalism Source of Safety, J-SOS, is now publicly accessible. J-SOS is an online toolkit that offers trauma-informed and identity-aware journalist safety checklists, tips, gear advice, and other necessary security information for all journalists, including freelancers and students, with an emphasis on equity and ethics.
Yet, as common as these circumstances are for members of the press, we are often woefully underprepared to address our physical safety and mental health during and after these experiences. It is with this in mind that I have worked to bring Journalism Source of Safety (J-SOS) to all journalists — from students learning the craft to seasoned professionals — who might need primers on staying safe and dealing with the trauma of our work.
J-SOS was imagined as a digital guide that could offer primers on safety information for journalists at all stages of their career engaging in daily assignment work from covering protests to extreme weather. Over the last nine months, I have led a team of five collaborators in building J-SOS: freelance visual journalists Vanessa Charlot and Rosem Morton; safety trainers Mari Galicer and Jeje Rajab; and web designer Kat Contreras.
Together, we produced safety briefings on six key areas that often represent complex safety environments for journalists: Civil Unrest, Digital Security, Environmental Disaster, First Aid, Travel and Trauma. Each of the sections provides a Top Tips list of what to consider in terms of your safety for specific reporting situations and a short list of our most highly recommended available resources. (There are hundreds of existing safety resources online for journalists and we have compiled a much more extensive public database of those resources here.)
There are five Gear Lists (Civil Unrest, Disaster, Travel, First Aid, General Go Bag), with specific suggestions on what to bring, pack or carry in those particular reporting situations. There are scenarios in four of the topic areas that are there to help imagine under what kinds of assignments and situations you might apply the information offered in the briefing.
J-SOS also offers downloadable PDF primers on CPR, First Aid First Response, Psychological First Aid, and a PPE Guide. The Gear Lists can also be downloaded as printable PDFs to take with you as a packing checklist in your reporting kit.
It has been an incredible experience building J-SOS for my fellow journalists. Having the opportunity to make a tool I have needed throughout my photojournalism career has been an immense joy and privilege. I hope it is as useful for others as learning this safety information has been for me.
Stay Connected to J-SOS
Take the Safety Survey: Part of this project is trying to assess the safety and risk management needs of visual journalists around the world. Please take this anonymous survey to offer your thoughts, experiences and what you want to see taught in journalism safety training. I will keep the survey open throughout 2023 and continue to review the responses over that period.
Follow J-SOS on Twitter and share your safety tips, gear and anecdotes from your lived experiences using #sourceofsafety. This will build a publicly accessible database of safety advice, tips, tools and information by and for journalists across the world.
I have put together a public keyword-searchable database of suggested journalism safety resources that will act as a living archive beyond the launch of the more static J-SOS website portion of this project. Please add your constructive feedback or additions/revisions as comments to the Google doc resource database or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any suggestions for guides, checklists, reports, templates or anything else to add to the list.
Thank you for following along as we built J-SOS! I hope it’s a useful tool and I look forward to making it even better from your feedback.