Saturday, February 9, 2008

When journalists are attacked

As an editor, how much risk can you ask your reporters to take when covering a story?
At a conference last year in Bolivia, Ricardo Trotti of the Interamerican Press Association told a group of journalists that "no story is worth your life" (ninguna nota vale una vida). Trotti heads the Impunity Project that pushes for investigation and prosecution in cases of attacks on journalists.

Editors at that conference, which focused on how to do aggressive coverage and still protect the safety of journalists, generally leave it up to reporters to make their own judgment about whether to cover a story that has some personal risk involved.

In Latin America, this kind of risk-reward calculation has to be made every day. Journalists are regularly threatened with violence or other forms of retaliation. Radio reporters who work in the outlying areas are particularly vulnerable. They are often the only news sources for their communities, and they are also without many of the legal protections of reporters in big cities. Often the corruption that they are reporting about involves the law enforcement and judicial authorities they would rely on for protection.

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas provides a weekly update on what is happening in the field. Rarely a week goes by without violence against a journalist.

How do you lower the risk? Among the tips of journalists who are veterans of this type of reporting:

-- Stick to the facts. Don't get personal. Don't bring in the family of a story subject unless it's warranted by the facts.
-- Good journalism is safe journalism. Avoid sensationalism. Verify your information. Avoid sweeping generalizations.
-- Be a reporter, not a protagonist. Avoid inserting yourself into the story.
-- Make sure your editors know who you're talking to, when and where. Don't go off on your own without telling someone.
-- An invitation to a clandestine meeting at a remote location may sound like a great way to meet Deep Throat, but it can also be a trap.

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