Begin by interviewing the sources in whom you have the most trust, gradually working toward those who may be more hostile. Limit how much you disclose about your reporting.Safety concerns are the responsibility of not only the journalist, but also the news outlet planning to publish or broadcast the reporting. Newsroom managers should consider specific security measures to protect facilities, journalists, and in some instances the families of journalists. Drawing up a written risk assessment is recommended. (See Chapter 1 Basic Preparedness and Appendix G Security Assessment Form.) When covering dangerous figures such as criminal or terrorist suspects, the assessment should be accompanied by a contingency plan in case the journalist or his or her sources become endangered. The assessment should identify the most dangerous actors and most sensitive issues in the investigation and assess the risks that may arise. In any such investigation, the wrong question at the wrong time to the wrong source could put a journalist or his sources at risk. You may wish to begin your reporting by interviewing the sources in whom you have the most trust, gradually working toward those who may be more hostile. Be aware that your questions can give an indication as to the nature of your story. To protect yourself and your sources, limit how much you disclose about your investigation. Toward the end of an investigation, a journalist and his or her editor may wish to draw up a separate risk assessment to help determine whether and how to approach a criminal suspect who may be a subject of the story. The assessment should include an evaluation of risk, a series of options to approach the individual, and an appraisal of the suspect’s possible reactions. The assessment should include clear protocols to establish how and when you will communicate safely with your editor and perhaps other trusted colleagues. This could be done through a variety of methods—from email to telephone calls—and it may involve simple code that would communicate whether you believe you are safe or in danger. You and your editor should also discuss in advance under what circumstances you might be compelled to suspend or call off the investigation. A contingency plan should be developed in the event that you or your sources may be in danger. Be mindful about how you record and store information. To protect the identities of sources in your written notebooks and electronic files, you may wish to use coding or pseudonyms that you will remember but that others will not easily decipher. This is especially important when dealing with informants who would be endangered if their identity were disclosed. Notebooks with sensitive material should always be secured; notes with innocuous material can be left accessible in case intruders search your belongings. Electronic files can be made more secure through the use of USB flash drives, strong password protection, and remote backups, among other measures. (See Chapter 3 Technology Security for a full description of securing electronic data.) Whether and how to approach suspected criminal actors depends on several factors. Journalists should always consider the status of law enforcement agencies. In areas where law enforcement is weak or corrupt, journalists should expect far higher levels of risk and adjust their approach accordingly. Be mindful of how you and your news outlet may be perceived among the community of individuals being covered. Journalists should “bend over backward” to show their impartiality and willingness to give every subject the chance to tell his or her story, Drew Sullivan, editor of the Sarajevo-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, told American Journalism Review, for an article in 2010. “Be relentless but friendly and open in your effort to talk to the people you hope to win as sources,” suggests Bill Wallace of the U.S.-based Criminal Justice Journalists in the group’s report “Covering Crime and Justice,” developed from 2003 through 2010. In any criminal investigation, keep in mind that the greatest risk may not be reporting on criminal groups themselves, but on the web of official corruption that protects them. In many parts of the world, extreme caution is advised. Journalists investigating official corruption or any form of collusion with criminal actors may wish to develop a cover story to tell people, especially potentially hostile sources. The cover story should be credible and broad enough to encompass the actual investigation without giving away the specific matter under investigation. The period shortly before a story runs is often a dangerous time. Journalists should be mindful of what they say, to whom, and when. Hostile and potentially violent subjects may take pre-emptive action if they learn that they are the target of an investigation. In 2007, U.S. journalist Chauncey Bailey was shot dead three blocks from his Oakland, California, office after the proprietor of a local business tied to criminal activity learned that the journalist was investigating the establishment’s finances. One question is whether suspected criminal actors can be safely approached under any circumstances. Reporters and editors in nations where law enforcement is weak must make the realistic but ethically painful decision as to whether pursuing the story or naming alleged perpetrators is worth the risk at all. If a decision is made to approach potentially hostile subjects, editors should know in advance and the journalist should be either accompanied by or observed by a colleague. Journalists should communicate to hostile subjects that they are speaking not just to an individual but to the news organization planning to run the story. Some subjects may be considered too dangerous to approach in person. In some cases, it is advisable to approach the subject’s lawyer rather than the individual directly. The subject or the person’s attorney should understand that the story is already planned and that you are seeking comment for ethical and legal reasons. In the absence of a defense attorney, you can assess whether it is practical or safe to communicate with the subject by phone, email, or other written correspondence. But even that may be too dangerous. Communicate candidly with your editor about situations in which a subject may be too hostile to approach. Consider your safety and that of sources when considering the next step. The public record sometimes offers a means by which a hostile subject’s denial or viewpoint may be derived.
Protect sources who provide sensitive documents. Visit multiple agencies with access to such records in order to enlarge the pool of possible sources.Reporters and editors need to be versed in the public-information laws that apply in each nation. The U.S.-based Citizen Media Law Project provides an array of suggestions and tools for accessing information from municipal, regional, and national authorities in the United States. The website Right2INFO.org compiles documents and publications on access-to-information laws worldwide. Although online access to government data remains patchy worldwide, some progress has been made. The Kenyan government, for example, launched a database of public information in 2011. In some parts of the world, including much of Africa, the right to government information is enshrined in the law, but practical procedures to obtain specific records are nonexistent or unclear. Journalists should confer with local experts and colleagues in advance of seeking information in such nations. A number of local press organizations worldwide monitor access-to-information laws and the practical procedures to obtain information. (See Appendix E Journalism Organizations for a list of many such groups. The International Freedom of Expression Exchange maintains a comprehensive listing.) Because obtaining documents through official means is difficult in some nations, many journalists still rely on sources to access government data. A journalist must take precautions, however, to avoid revealing the identity of a source who provided sensitive documents. A reporter, for example, could visit several agencies with access to a document in question in order to enlarge the possible pool of sources and make it more difficult for authorities or other actors to identify the actual source. The use of documentation may also shift risk onto the journalist. Be aware that governments and criminal actors have taken legal or extralegal action in reprisal for the disclosure of sensitive material. Nearly half of all journalists imprisoned worldwide are jailed on antistate charges that include revealing information that governments consider to be state secrets. Criminal actors, sometimes in collusion with state authorities, have used coercion in many nations to compel journalists to reveal the sources of incriminating documents. María Teresa Ronderos recounted in a 2010 CPJ report, El Espectador joined with its main competitor, El Tiempo, and other media outlets in the following months to investigate and publish stories about drug trafficking’s many tentacles in society. Years later, in 2004, a coalition of Colombian print outlets began working together on dangerous assignments such as infiltration by illegal paramilitary groups in the nation’s lottery. This and other investigative stories were published simultaneously in 19 Colombian magazines and newspapers. The newsweekly Semana led another collaborative effort, the Manizales Project, designed to investigate murders and threats against journalists. While violence against Colombian journalists has not stopped, CPJ research shows, it has occurred less frequently and at a lower level. Collaborating across borders is another way to confront organized crime. Groups such as the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, with members in 50 nations, have produced news-breaking reports on topics such as tobacco smuggling and black-market ocean fishing. The Belgrade-based Center for Investigative Reporting-Serbia and the Sarajevo-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project together uncovered offshore holdings of Serbian billionaire Miroslav Mišković. notes the Sarajevo-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. (See Chapter 9 Sustained Risks for further advice on surveillance.) Some private security firms have added surveillance detection to the hostile-environment training they offer journalists. (See Appendix B Security Training for a list of firms.) Knowing that one is under surveillance can give reporters and editors time to consider options. That includes whether or not to continue working on the story, to put other reporters on the story, to involve other news organizations, to rely on and report the matter to law enforcement authorities, and to relocate journalists and their families. Journalists should be aware of the possible reactions to stress that they and their families may face in covering organized crime and corruption. (See Chapter 10 Stress Reactions.)