Why journalists need safety training before reporting abroad

Posted by Taylor Soule

As journalists swarm Gaza, a single goal prevails: publish first. As journalists race to publish the latest information before rival news outlets, safety abroad receives insufficient attention. Already, airstrikes have killed three journalists covering the conflict.

Photo courtesy of Central Intelligence Agency

Journalists often lack the defenses necessary to protect themselves overseas. Additionally, Israel’s attack on Gaza’s Hamas leaders escalated quickly, sending journalists to Gaza with little notice or preparation.

Thus, to improve journalists’ security abroad, news outlets ought to provide and require safety training. Often, publications deem safety preparation a plus when sending reporters abroad. Safety preparation, however, ought to act as a prerequisite.

Though resources exist online, in-person safety training ensures that all journalists at a given news outlet receive like preparation.

Before Washington Post reporters go abroad, the publication funds an optional safety course taught by Centurion. Centurion’s training uses mock situations to boost journalists’ awareness of danger. The mock situations change to reflect the hazards prevalent at present.

The Rory Peck Trust, which supports freelancers worldwide, awards free safety courses to qualified journalists before they enter “hostile environments.” The courses prepare journalists to identify and evaluate hazards, cope with crises and provide first-aid.

Though precautions exist, too few journalists take advantage. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 341 journalists worldwide were killed between 1995-2004.

Until news outlets protect journalists in advance by requiring safety courses, that toll will climb.

Ultimately, I believe today’s media prize supremacy over safety, encouraging journalists to seek the latest information despite danger.

Should news outlets require reporters to complete safety training as a precondition to work abroad?

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8 responses to “Why journalists need safety training before reporting abroad

  1. Wow, I had no idea how many journalists have been killed in the past few years. I completely agree that journalists need more training on safety when they’re going into dangerous areas. I don’t think that a lot of journalists realize that not all countries are as accepting of journalists as the United States is and that they’re at a much higher risk than they realize. I don’t think that all journalists should be required to take safety courses because it wouldn’t be as relevant for a sports reporter in Tucson as a reporter in Iran. However, on a case-by-case basis it makes a lot of sense.

    • I agree, Kenzie. As news outlets face budget cuts, though, I think we’ll see even fewer safety precautions taken. However, I hope news outlets still prize journalist safety over profits and provide training when necessary.

  2. Journalist safety is one of those issues that journalists rarely consider. Many times the rush to get the story over takes our good judgement.

    I think it only makes sense for news agencies to give their foreign journalists safety training when they go overseas in hostile situations. I remember getting safety training about using microwave trucks when I worked at a station, and I wasn’t going to be the one operating it. These foreign situations are a great deal more dangerous than a simple live shot.

    • As journalists, we seek balance in our reporting and writing. Likewise, we ought to seek balance in our news gathering — a balance between safety and the desire to publish the latest information first.

      Your comment about your training raises a similar issue news outlets face when providing training. How should publications decide who receives safety instruction and who doesn’t?

  3. Taylor, you did a really great job providing multiple avenues of information in this post. The links you provided were helpful and your image did a service for your readers. I never heard of the Rory Peck Trust before, but I’m happy you brought it to our attention. That kind of training could definitely make a life or death difference in a foreign correspondent’s situation.

    • Thanks, Leah. As more journalists enter hostile environments, I hope more organizations like the Rory Peck Trust fund the necessary precautions.

      Plus, the organization serves a sometimes-overlooked community in freelancers. By supporting freelancers, the Rory Peck Trust stresses the importance of protecting all journalists, whether New York Times veterans or first-time freelancers.

  4. I completely agree that journalists should receive training, on behalf of their organization that they are working for. It doesn’t make any sense to send a journalist into a dangerous area, and risks their lives for a story. In the end, that doesn’t help a company save any money, they actually lose money by not providing this. I was watching the news live during one of the days of air strikes, and to see the reactions from the journalists were terrifying. They were so close and somehow kept their cool.

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