When CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan was sexually assaulted in 2011 covering the Arab Spring, it was news because of the attack and because Logan talked about it openly. Female journalists had often been afraid to report this kind of attack for fear their bosses wouldn’t assign them to crisis stories again. In 2017, Swedish independent journalist Kim Wall was murdered while covering a story on a small submarine with inventor Peter Madsen. He is serving a life sentence for her murder and dismemberment.
Crimes like these, along with the rising awareness of predatory harassment and the #metoo movement, has led to more discussion about safety and gender roles. Much of the talk has been on social media but there is a need for increased dialogue between women and men.
This need led independent photographers Victor J. Blue and Maddie McGarvey to create a one-day awareness workshop “Working Together” held at Ohio University in March. It was sponsored by the OU NPPA student chapter, Scripps College of Communication and the School of Visual Communication. About 30 people attended, nearly half of them male. The workshop combines presentations with small-group breakout sessions.
“Women can’t be the only ones talking about this,” McGarvey said. She and Blue said the goal of the workshop is to foster a culture of safety and to show how male photojournalists can support their colleagues.
Blue added that photojournalism is a small industry and that this is an opportunity to make things better. “The people closest to the problem are the best ones to solve it,” Blue said. It will also result in safer conditions and better photojournalism. “Journalism is better if we hear from people who have been marginalized,” he said.
McGarvey pointed out that women in journalism have additional gender risks, and not just in conflict zones. The workshop presented three ways to mitigate risk while on assignment:
Recognizing problem signals before things get difficult can help reduce risk. Photojournalists already assess situations for visual and storytelling possibilities. Increase your vigilance and notice details that could indicate a sketchy situation such as weapons or drugs. Judge the energy in the situation and be aware of changes. Have an exit plan and most important, trust your gut.
Let someone know where you are going, who you will be with and what they should do if they don’t hear from you in a certain amount of time. For instance, tell someone about the assignment and that you expect to be done at midnight. If your contact does not hear from you, they should text you. If they don’t hear from you within an hour, they call you. If another hour goes by, they should check with a backup contact. If it’s been six hours, they should call the police.
If you are riding with someone, make a photo of their license tag and send it to the contact with a description of the vehicle. It’s good to let the subject know that you are regularly texting or checking in with others.
Subjects can misinterpret a journalist’s interest as an invitation to a personal relationship. The subjects need to understand and be reminded, if necessary, that this is a professional interaction. If they feel it is social, that should be corrected immediately. Casually steer the conversation by mentioning a partner to make it clear you are not open to new relationships.