We Need To Protect Freelance Journalists
Last week, I had a conversation with my father. I talked to him about some of the investigative projects that I’ve been working on. He had a request that put me off guard at first—he told me to get a pocket knife. I tried to reassure him that I already carry pepper spray, but he wasn’t persuaded. Taking his advice, I did go to Ace Hardware last weekend and pick up a mini multi-tool kit with a knife and attached it to my keys.
As an only child, I understand why both my parents are at times afraid for me. In the past, I’ve written things that have upset powerful people, and I want to continue to unflinchingly pursue the truth. With that comes another layer of caution.
These days, when journalists, even journalists in the states, talk about security in terms of cybersecurity, which is a very real threat. I don’t think that the public understands the risks journalists face in the U.S. and abroad. Reporters have been assaulted, jailed and killed in the U.S. and around the world. (Don’t believe me? Head over to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ website).
I started thinking about this after the horrific murder of independent journalist Kim Wall. Wall, a Columbia University graduate, was a freelance journalist who reported for The New York Times and the Guardian. Part of her body was found on a Copenhagen waterside after she went to interview Danish inventor Peter Madsen.
When I read this story, it shook me to my core. I had a very hard time sleeping after reading about her murder, the discovery of her mutilated remains washed ashore. No parent should have to lose their child like that. I know that journalists regularly put themselves in harm's way in the name of telling the truth, but she did not have to die the way she did. It is absolutely unacceptable and horrifying. Journalists are cautious, but we are not afraid. Freelance journalists are particularly vulnerable in areas of conflict, but that doesn’t mean that journalists are safe in Europe and the U.S.
Seeing what happened to Wall made me think about the relationship I have with my own job. As a black woman, I’ve never felt 100 percent anywhere. I grew up in Detroit, a beautiful city that has its share of problems like any other. In my childhood, I remember not being able to ride my bike around the neighborhood. I’ve grown up knowing that I need to keep a close eye on my surroundings and not allowing people to get too close to you.
I remember my parents taking me to karate classes as a child, though I never actually made it past a white belt. Now after telling him about Kim's story, my BF wants me to train with him so that I can sharpen my self-defense skills. I just may take him up on it.
But it's not just physical protection I've been worried about. Here lately, I’ve been searching for the right liability insurance for my business. (Please send me recommendations!)
It is my hope that newsrooms will step up to provide better protection for freelance journalists. While I understand that newsrooms are struggling financially, they’re going to have to protect the freelancers they rely on to gather news that their staffers can’t.
What steps are you taking as a freelancer to protect yourself and your business? Also, how did Kim Wall’s death impact you? Please tell me in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.