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Four tech innovations that might save the life of a journalist

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Four tech innovations that might save the life of a journalist

With ever-present security concerns for journalists reporting on global conflicts and the rising threat of reporters being killed with impunity, there's a growing need for personal security apps that can assist in high risk reporting zones. 

Javier Garza Ramos is the World Editors Forum special advisor on newsroom safety. He says journalists in several countries are currently facing increased risk when reporting on social unrest, crime and natural disasters. "The truth right now is that tools like these are not part of a reporter's tool-kit, but they should be," he said. "Having colleagues know the location of a reporter can save valuable minutes in emergency situations."

The World Editors Forum has reviewed a range of apps and devices currently available. Here, we look at four of the most innovative technologies for journalists reporting in high-risk environments to consider.

1. Panic Button

Launched by Amnesty International earlier this year, this app allows users to send a secret alarm to signify to co-workers or associates when they are at risk through their smart phones. The signal is updated peridoically with the user's locaton and can also diguise itself on the homescreen of the device to remain unsuspected by perpetrators. 

2. SoloMate Lite
This app from Track24 FZE allows users to quickly send updates about their wellbeing, including a call for help, while simultanously sending GPS locations to their collegues. The recipients can recieve updates via Facebook, email or mobile phone. 

3. Natalia Project 
This unique project, whose name sake is that of Natalia Estemirova, an activist abducted and killed in Chechnya in 2009, is a blend of social media awareness and practical technology. It enables activists who are at risk of persecution or attack to trigger an alarm from a durable wrist band device, which is broadcast to human rights headquaters and local partners, along with an exact location and time. Civilians who register with the project also recieve the alerts of these reported human rights violations. The remarkable part is the real-time reaction of people on social media who can share the information, become connected and collectively denounce the attack.

4. Hancel
Funded by Knight Foundation, this journalism smart phone app, though still in beta (live-testing) stage, connects Mexican and Colombian journalists to media freedom NGOs and their own contacts (editor, spouse etc) in real time. Hancel can be programmed to monitor them while they are in high risk areas and it allows them to send updates to their contacts simultanously if they are facing a threat. The app also sends GPS coordinates and an automatic update if the journalist fails to report in after a certain amount of time. 

Need for a holistic approach

Although these apps can be extremely useful in a practical sense, they are best used in conjunction with additional cyber-security measures to ensure a holistic approach to safety, according to Alan Pearce, author of Deep Web for Journalists

"Journalists should consider the fact that if they’re using their mobile phones…what they’re writing or what they’re doing can be intercepted", therefore increasing their risk of exposure, he told WEF. 

"Journalists need to be aware that these things are happening and find ways to work around them; determine the level of threat they're facing and find ways to stay safe," he said.

Additional resources and information on journalism safety can be found at the website of the International News Safety Institute. Also, late last year reviewed a number of other GPS devices that could be deployed in the interest of journalism safety. 


Sydney Pead


2014-07-01 16:20

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The World Editors Forum is the organisation within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (, launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.

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