It isn’t just war zones where your life can be in danger.
The story of Kim Wall, a Swedish reporter brutally killed while working on a freelance story aboard a privately owned submarine, reminded foreign correspondents and freelancers working overseas that even in a relatively safe country, everyone is vulnerable.
Safety when reporting overseas was the focus from panelists Rachel Jones, a freelance journalist who spent years in Africa; Edith Lederer, veteran war and disaster correspondent for the Associated Press; and Zoe Sullivan, freelance correspondent in South America during the Oct. 28 session on global reporting, which was moderated by freelance journalist Kira Zalan, who is based in Africa.
The veteran journalists suggested ways to stay safe, gave advice on dealing with sexual harassment in other countries, and suggested organizations and tips on getting paid.
“There is always this balance between risk and the story,” Lederer said. “When going out and risking your life in war zones or dangerous areas, for every story that you are going out to cover, ask yourself very seriously, “Is this a story worth risking my life for?”
Being cautious is fundamental, but panelists offered safety tips and stories about their time overseas.
- If you don’t know the area that you’re in, try and team up with others who have been there for a while.
- Be cautious and stay away from the “war junkies,” who Lederer described as “macho guys who will go anywhere and take any risk.”
- Prioritize your safety when meeting sources. Jones said she’s turned down source meetings and rescheduled during the day in a crowded area, where she’d be safer. Sullivan said she once went alone to meet a woman in an unknown area, and got stood up and felt very unsafe.
- If you have a fixer—someone who is acquainted with the area and can help with translating—make sure they’re smart and won’t put you in harm’s way.
- Make friends and sources in the community. They will have your back if you show you’re trustworthy and care. They can help with tracking where the fighting is moving, if in a war zone.
Even if you’re safe, there is a heightened risk of sexual discrimination in some countries and cultures. Jones said she was once accused of being a prostitute.
“I had a cab driver when returning to meet a colleague, a white male, and he turned to my colleague and said, ‘How much did you pay for her?'” Jones said.
She laughed it off.
More tips on dealing with discrimination:
- Wear a wedding ring
- Say you have your period.
- Trust your instincts. Avoid being alone in hotel rooms and other potentially unsafe settings, and don’t go with someone by yourself, including into a hotel room, even if it’s for an interview.
Getting overseas and finding work isn’t easy. Many media organizations don’t use freelancers because of the potential liabilities of having someone in a dangerous country or in a war zone. Looking for freelance work overseas forces you to be creative.
Sullivan worked as an English teacher in Brazil to help supplement her income.
“The pay wasn’t great, but I got some great connections in the community,” she said. “Plus, it meant I wasn’t totally reliant on freelance.”
Panelists offered organizations and that can help with freelance opportunities or grants to help with funding work and projects, including these:
- The Gates Foundation
- The United Nations
- Social media groups for foreign correspondents could also help lead to smaller media agencies where you can pitch content.