"As journalists we do one of the most important jobs there is, so looking after ourselves, our fixers and crews is number one priority – no story is worth dying for," explained Clare Arthurs, independent journalist and trainer, at a Mojocon workshop last week.

As well as being at risk physically in conflict areas, reporters are being targeted digitally by hackers, militias and even governments, making it increasingly dangerous to be a journalist.

Thankfully, news organisations are aware of the changing dangers for reporters out in the field, with many publishers making hostile environment training a requirement, along with employing their own safety advisors.

There is also a growing amount of resources for journalists looking to better protect themselves, with a rising number of courses providing hostile environment training, and NGOs in the sector such as the Rory Peck Trust, CPJ, Reporters without Borders, or InterNews looking to provide practical and financial support to journalists in times of crisis.

But whether a journalist travels alone or with a team, they are ultimately responsible for their own safety, explained the BBC's Nick Garnett, who has reported from various areas in dangerous situations, including Jordan, Turkey, Nepal and South Sudan.

So, once you've done a first aid course, what measures can you take to ensure you protect yourself when reporting out in the field?

Arthurs explained that the key to looking after yourself is planning, making it vital for reporters to carry out a risk assessment before they go anywhere – that could be anything from capturing video in a war zone or interviewing people outside their office.

"You have to think about the hazards, the risks and the consequences if something was to happen," Arthurs said, noting that it is just as important to think about the emotional risks that could be associated with certain assignments as well as potential physical harm.

She advised delegates to check out work from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, a project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, which has done a lot of work on the impact of trauma on journalists and their psychological and mental health.

If you use your risk assessment to plan for the expected and unexpected, you will be prepared for any scenario.

Take on board this advice from Garnett and Arthurs when you travel, but be aware that this is not an exhaustive list of measures you need to take. Make sure you research extensively before taking an assignment in a dangerous area.

Claire Arthurs explained the importance of a risk assessment to MoJoCon delegates

Do your research

Before heading out on an assignment, Garnett begins by checking the Foreign and Commonwealth office website for any up to date travel advice on each country he is going to, looking for areas of risk that he might have to prepare for.

A safety journalism grab bag, Arthurs explained, should always be carried around to help deal with a number of situations.

"That means things like water, a contact list to call people in an emergency, protective clothing to change into if you get caught up in a protest with weapons or fire, and a first aid kit with painkillers, disinfectant and something to stop bleeding," she said.

Protect your data

Journalists are being watched and hacked, explained Arthurs, so if you're walking around with lots of valuable information and sources that you need to protect, you should introduce double-level security on your devices.

"However, you must be aware that encryption is illegal in some countries, where a journalist can get prosecuted as a spy."

Garnett explained that while it's important to turn off any cloud-based syncing on your phone and delete sensitive material, journalists should not simply wipe their devices before they go.

You must be aware that encryption is illegal in some countries, where a journalist can get prosecuted as a spyClare Arthurs, independent journalist and trainer

"They're not stupid – those asking will see you have cleaned your phone, and will get the information if they want it. Instead, we populate a new email address for a couple of weeks before we travel so there is a history of contact on there. Before you go, try to disable fingerprint access."

To prevent storing a lot of information on his smartphone, Garnet uploads his footage off his device as soon as possible.

"When filming, I try to upload my material as soon as I have shot or recorded it, often using untraceable uploads like WeTransfer with a different email address, so the sent receipt isn't on my phone.

"Apps like Filmic Pro or Mavis store footage on their library rather than the camera roll – most police will have a look at your photo library and not go into the app and start looking there."

Fake iCloud accounts, untraceable file uploads like WeTransfer and passwords are all ways journalists can prevent their sensitive material getting into the wrong hands.

"Buy local SIMs at the airport, but be aware that if you do that then your passport will be copied, and therefore the government has a link between your passport and that phone number," he said.

Making physical and digital copies of your passports is also crucial, explained Garnett, who takes a laminated version of his photo page around with him to offer up if requested of him rather than his original.

Additionally, if someone asks you for your passport, Arthurs noted, your first response should be – 'it is back in my hotel room, I don't have it', because authorities may take it and bribe you to get it back, and you'll get caught.

Act smart

When out in public, wear long sleeves and trousers to not only stay in line with cultural norms, but to also protect yourself from the weather and potentially dangerous insect bites.

"Don't draw attention to yourself – leave your jewellery at home and buy a cheap watch when you're out there," Garnett advised, noting that journalists should not take pictures of people with their smartphones or get mojo equipment out that might be confused for weapons.

"The most important thing is to not use your phone on the street, leave it in your pocket and observe. If you're in a dangerous place, get up high, shoot from there and get out and carry on."

Always ensure your bags are padlocked, even double-locked for security, remembering that airport and hotel staff may steal your equipment if they get a chance.

"Wear sunglasses when you leave an airport so that you don’t get spotted looking for taxi ranks and thus immediately making yourself stand out as a tourist," said Garnett.

"And don't talk to people when you arrive – we have this idea that we can tell people who we are and what we are doing but don't. If you have to, have a credible back story."

Every single thing we have mentioned can be governed by one thing: a risk assessmentNick Garnett, BBC

When picking accommodation, choose your room wisely – don't pick a room above a reception in case warning gunshots got through your room, and don't pick a room higher than the third floor so you can get out quickly in the dark if you need to, he advised.

"Bring a door wedge to help secure your door shut at night," said Arthurs, and know what your exit is going to be if you need to get out of the room – and this goes for any scenario you are in.

"For example, when you cover a protest or rally, plan before you go as part of your risk assessment, plan your vantage point with a good escape point down a road, and think about where the opposing sides are – look at where the police and protestors are and think about where to position yourself to stay as safe as possible."

But what you are at most risk of, Arthurs explained, is a traffic accident.

"Car safety is one of the key things you've got to be thinking about – travel with no less than a quarter of a tank, keep the tires pumped up and check the seatbelts work," she said.

"If it is someone else's car, think about what they might have in it – weapons in glove boxes are far more common than you think."

Keeping in contact

Everyday before you leave your hotel, take photos of yourself and your colleagues and send them back home so you're seen in what you're wearing for the day in case you go missing, Garnett said.

"Link to people back at base everyday – use any geo location app that you can such as Find My Friends. I've been tracked around some of the most bizarre places in the world, seeing exactly where I am."

Arthurs agreed, stating that it is especially important for family members to know your location in case of a real or fake kidnap.

"You need a really good emergency contact list and your family needs to have your itinerary with all your contact details, passport details and a copy of your insurance documents and credit card details," she said.

Additionally, reporters should put together a proof of life document which contains confidential information that can be used to confirm whether you're alive in case of kidnapping, abduction or detention.

"And leave a copy of your handwriting with somebody back at base, because if you are under duress you could be asked to write something down and sent back to base," said Garnett.

"Every single thing we have mentioned can be governed by one thing: a risk assessment.

"If you don't do it, you are taken by surprise at everything that happens, but if you do it then everything will follow.

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