CPJ defines journalists as people who cover news or comment on public affairs through any medium — including in print, online, via broadcast media, or photographs and video. We take up cases involving staff journalists and freelancers. (Read our FAQs here.)


CPJ’s annual census is a snapshot of those incarcerated at midnight on December 1 each year. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year. Journalists who either disappear or are abducted by non-state entities such as criminal gangs or militant groups are not included in the prison census. Their cases are classified as “missing” or “abducted.”

In 2018, CPJ launched a new database to house census details on imprisoned journalists. The project included a one-time revision of historical numbers to clean up duplication; count people from the date of their arrest rather than the date CPJ learned of their case; and retroactively apply the data methodology as consistently as possible. Numbers are liable to continue adjusting each year as CPJ learns of arrests, releases, or deaths in prison, resulting in minor discrepancies with previously published numbers. These numbers are adjusted annually in December to coincide with the census launch rather than published on an ad hoc basis during the year. 


CPJ has detailed records on journalist fatalities since 1992. CPJ researchers independently investigate and verify the circumstances behind each death. CPJ considers a case “confirmed” as work-related only when it appears certain that a journalist was murdered in direct reprisal for his or her work; in combat or crossfire; or while carrying out a dangerous assignment. Cases involving unclear motives, but with a potential link to journalism, are classified as “unconfirmed” and CPJ continues to investigate. The “unconfirmed” category does not include journalists who are killed in accidents or other incidents where the journalist was not on assignment and there is no evidence to suggest the journalist was the target.   

We regularly reclassify cases based on our ongoing research. While we document both “confirmed” and “unconfirmed” cases in our database, targeted statistical analyses include only “confirmed” cases.

In 2003, CPJ began documenting the deaths of media support workers, in recognition of the vital role these individuals play in newsgathering. These workers include translators, drivers, fixers, security guards, and administrative workers. CPJ lists only media workers whose death is confirmed as work-related. These cases are not included in CPJ’s statistical analysis of journalists’ deaths.

Type of Death: CPJ further categorizes each death of a journalist in which the motive is confirmed as related to their work. The categories are:

Crossfire/combat: a killing on a battlefield or in a military context

Dangerous assignment: deaths while covering a demonstration, riot, clashes between rival groups, mob situations; this includes assignments which are not expected to entail physical risk but turn violent unexpectedly

Murder: the targeted killing of a journalist, whether premeditated or spontaneous, in direct reprisal for the journalist’s work

Suspected source of fire in killings of journalists: This refers to the person or entity CPJ has identified as most likely responsible. Categories include: political groups (anti-government parties or combatants, including insurgents and terrorists); government officials (civilian government officials, including police); military officials (members of the government’s military); paramilitary groups (irregular armed forces allied with the government); criminal groups (criminals or members of criminal gangs, including drug traffickers); mob violence (crowds of people acting together but not otherwise organized); and local residents (individuals inspired to violence by news coverage).

Impunity in murder cases: CPJ monitors the law enforcement and judicial process for each confirmed murder case, and we categorize the status of the investigation. The categories are: complete impunity (no convictions have been obtained); partial justice (some but not all of those responsible have been convicted; typically, assassins are convicted but not those who ordered the killing); and full justice (everyone responsible is convicted, including perpetrators and those who commissioned them). Cases in which the suspected perpetrators were killed during apprehension are categorized as partial impunity.


CPJ maintains a list of journalists known to have disappeared while doing their work. Although many of them are feared dead, CPJ generally does not classify them as “Killed” if no body has been found. In deciding whether and how to document a case, CPJ also takes into consideration the views of the journalist’s family and whether publicity could harm the journalist. Journalists who disappear while in government custody are classified as “Imprisoned” to reflect that CPJ holds the government accountable for the journalists’ fate.

CPJ is aware that some cases of journalists missing in conflict zones or areas under the control of militant groups might go unreported because of the difficulties of tracking and confirming information in these volatile regions.