Using journalism networks to reduce risks while reporting

by Jacqueline Strzemp
Oct 30, 2018 in Digital and Physical Safety

With the Panama Papers winning a Pulitzer Prize and organizations like the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) producing projects with content from many countries, collaboration in investigative journalism is becoming more common than ever.

OCCRP’s recent piece on the Azerbaijani Laundromat, for example, uncovered a “complex money-laundering operation and slush fund that handled US$2.9 billion over a two-year period through four shell companies registered in the U.K.”

Similarly, collaborative investigations like the White House of Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico have triggered nationwide demands for greater government transparency — meaning that collaborative journalism can garner large-scale impact.

In addition to combatting censorship and raising investigations’ profiles, journalism networks can also reduce digital and physical risks.

Here are some ways journalists can use networks to minimize their risks:

  1. Think through both personal and organizational risks. Defining risks, their level of severity, and a plan to reduce the risk’s severity can ensure that a journalist and their media outlet are ready to combat the risk head-on, if it does occur. Planning for worst-case scenarios makes it much more difficult for journalists to be caught off guard and unprepared.

  2. Get to know and maintain connections with local, regional and international networks. Having a Rolodex full of contacts isn’t just for advocacy or press releases after an attack or threat has occurred. Journalism networks, like the Connectas Hub in Latin America, can be a resource for collaboration, knowledge sharing and exchange and contacts for republication. Engage often and maintain contact.

  3. Publish as a group. Journalists often work in silos, but collaboration in a group can divert attention from any one individual. This added layer of protection often means that journalists can publish on sensitive issues like corruption, mismanagement of funds and/or lack of transparency.

  4. Consider publishing/re-distributing with other news outlets. Publishing a complex investigation with multiple media outlets can limit attacks and/or threats on individual journalists or media outlets. Sharing credit isn’t always possible, as media outlets often want editorial independence, but engaging from the start can facilitate cooperation and help each newsroom present an angle of an investigation that is relevant to their respective audience.

  5. Share tools with a network of reporters. A benefit of working with networks is the opportunity to share access to encrypted platforms — such as Secure Reporter — that allow journalists to work together and share data for cross-border investigations. This adds another level of protection for journalists working on sensitive issues.

Some other recently produced collaborative investigations include:

Main image CC-licensed by Pixabay via geralt.