After years working as a first responder, Chris Post has taken on the role of “second first responder” in his job as a photojournalist at the Associated Press.
Post, executive director and safety advisor of the International Media Support Group, calls journalists “second first responders” in society. “Because we are running into situations that most people are leaving,” he said.
According to Post, journalists now are facing more risks to their safety than ever before.
“Safety precautions are for all of us journalists now,” Post said. “It’s not just for war correspondents anymore.”
Post said these risks include, but are not limited to, physical safety, mental health threats, harassment or stalking.
Post said one way that newsrooms can get ahead of safety threats and plan for uncertain situations is for a journalist or newsroom to complete a “risk assessment” before heading out on assignment.
When assessing risks of an event or incident, Post recommends considering the people who will be in attendance, the environment the reporting will take place in, what the reporter’s specific task is and what equipment may be needed during the assignment – also known as the “PETE” method.
Post said by vetting the four pillars of PETE, reporters will be more prepared to walk into uncertain situations and how to navigate a strenuous reporting job once you are already immersed in it.
Aside from the PETE method, Post said one of the best things a newsroom can do ahead of an unknown or dangerous reporting situation is to discuss it with one another, instead of going in blind.
“Safety starts with a conversation,” Post said.
A key component of the risk assessment is also understanding the difference between covering an event and covering an incident.
“Events have intel, a social media presence and a game plan,” Post said. “While incidents are a response … journalists are the second responders, as there are high levels of uncertainty.”
Another “unknown situation” Post discussed was weather threats to journalists.
“The number one risk for journalists in the U.S. is extreme weather,” Post said. “This includes hurricanes, flooding, etcetera.”
Another way to bolster personal safety on the job, to accompany the PETE method, is to grow your situational awareness.
“It is incredibly easy to lose your sense of awareness when you are not looking,” Post said. “Being aware of your surroundings and the people around you will help you be proactive, instead of reactive. It takes practice.”
Post said key ways to maintain situational awareness while reporting in the field can include thinking about what the people around you are doing, looking for normal or the absence of normal, where you would seek cover if there were gunshots or an explosion and being aware if someone is following you.
Above all, Post said that journalists must take care of their mental health.
Post recommended the DART Center for Journalism Trauma from Columbia University as a resource.
“Look out for yourself and others, so everyone can go home,” Post said.