As journalists prepare to cover the Presidential Inauguration and the anticipated rallies and protests across the country, many may be concerned about facing similar attacks to those experienced by reporters covering the violence at the Capitol earlier this month. Making preparations and being aware of the resources available can help provide reassurance. These resources are not limited to those concerning physical safety but also include tools for protecting your privacy and mental health, as well as combating misinformation. Each is essential to feel safe, supported and confident enough to perform your best.
Physical Safety Resources
The areas surrounding the U.S. Capitol have been shut down and 25,000 National Guard troops have been brought in to provide additional security during the Inauguration. In addition, many State Capitols will have increased security in anticipation of protests in other parts of the country. However, it is important to remain vigilant and not to let your guard down.
Here are some safety tips for journalists, adapted from PEN America’s safety webinar:
- Carry your credentials: It is important to be able to identify yourself clearly, but be mindful of displaying it when you’re surrounded by demonstrators who can yank it from your neck, or use it for targeting journalists.
- Stay on the edge of crowds: The middle of the crowd is where turmoil typically happens. Make sure you can clearly picture your exit routes and see what’s happening around you.
- Update your escape route constantly: Always be on the lookout for new escape routes as you move around throughout the event.
- Maintain your situational awareness: Scan your surroundings as crowds move, monitor changes, and keep an open ear for any commotion.
- Protection: Consider wearing a light body armor vest and protective headgear.
- Keep in mind: Safety comes first, the story comes second.
It is important to keep in mind that any device you choose to bring to the event can be subject to damage, loss or surveillance. An attacker can steal and potentially hack your smartphone, tracking images, texts and location in real time. When it comes to your smartphone, leave it at home, if possible, and switch to a “burner” phone with only the emergency contacts you may need.
However, leaving your smartphone at home is not always an option, so here’s what you should do before you attend the Inauguration events:
- Back up your data: Save your information to the cloud or your computer, whichever is more secure.
- Encrypt your phone: iPhones are encrypted by default, but Android users will need to turn on “Encrypt Disk” in the security section of their settings.
- Turn off notifications and pop-up badges: If your phone ends up being taken, this will prevent anyone from seeing your calls or texts .
- Strengthen your passcode: Passcodes should be between eight and 10 characters. The longer it is, the harder it is to crack.
- Turn off Face ID or Touch ID: Keeping these features can make it easier for someone to pressure you to unlock your phone.
In addition, turn off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and location services, and only use encrypted apps such as Signal during the event.
Mental Health Resources
Journalism is not the easiest job for our mental health and emotional well-being; as journalists, you are constantly covering stories that affect youin some way — sometimes even in ways that are traumatizing. Studies have found that journalists — whether covering everyday events or major tragedies — may experience post-traumatic stress. These days, it’s not only about the stress of covering stories, but also about the unpredictable situation we’re living in, with a pandemic, a monotonous daily environment, and economic and health uncertainties.
We’ve researched a few basic tips to help you get through your every day:
- Stay connected: Social gatherings might be postponed until later this year, but that should not stop you from reaching out and creating meaningful connections with those you care about via Zoom, FaceTime or a regular phone call — we need that social time to keep us mentally strong.
- Get quality sleep: Without the proper amount of rest, our bodies will be devoid of energy, we won’t be able to focus and our lethargy will make it harder to deal with our emotions. The amount of sleep we need varies from person to person, but the standard is between seven to nine hours every night.
- Move your body: We all know exercise will make us feel better and more energized. During busy days, it might be hard to get those 10,000 steps or an entire hour of exercise, which is okay. Getting your heart rate up for 30 minutes is all it takes to get results.
- Stay hydrated and nourished: Between Zoom meetings and reporting, eating regularly and drinking enough water might be something you forget to do, which could affect our cognitive responses and even act as a stressor. Nutrition professionals recommend meal prepping and scheduling each meal of the day, as well as keeping a water bottle near your work space.
- Think positively: We won’t become positive thinkers overnight, but keeping a gratitude journal, repeating positive affirmations or even doing a small thing that makes us happy every day can have unbelievable results in our mental health.
Misinformation and disinformation can travel faster than a speeding car in times of panic. Images get distorted, old videos get taken out of context, and people share whatever strikes them with their family, friends and colleagues. Repetition, retweets and shares of disinformation can create a scary phenomenon that persuades people to believe things that they know not to be true.
Follow these three tips when sharing information on social media:
- Verify images and videos: Many pictures and videos shared on social media are miscaptioned, edited and identified incorrectly. Before sharing or validating any content, it’s important to verify the image through a reverse Google search, identify the source and its origin—perhaps even searching for other sources from eyewitnesses standing nearby.
- Verify email addresses and social media accounts: Make sure you are interacting with individuals you know and/or you can confirm that the email address truly belongs to that individual. In addition, recently-opened accounts on Facebook and Twitter should send red flags that the accounts need to be verified.
- Verify sources: Fake news sites have become scarily common — they fool the public and even some journalists. These sites use names that are similar to legit news publications, a strategy to elevate misinformation and propaganda. Always double-check your sources before sharing information you didn’t get firsthand.
More Useful Resources:
Messaging on Violence (Election SOS): Includes a very insightful conversation with Dorothy Tucker, president of National Association of Black Journalists, on what to call the events of January 6, messaging tips for supporting peace, and how to describe and contextualize the people who were involved in violent acts.
10 Questions to Ask Before Covering Misinformation (First Draft): Offers a list of questions that range from who your target audience is to when and how to write corrections and what the best publication strategy may be.
Journalists in DC (Poynter): Includes a regularly updated list of most of the journalists on the ground covering events in D.C.
Arantxa Hernandez is a Venezuelan writer, copywriter and designer currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Savannah College of Art and Design.