Frontline Club launches network, safety initiative for freelance journalists


Swedish reporters Martin Schibbye (L) and Johan Persson pose on arrival at Arlanda airport in Stockholm on September 14, 2012. Ethiopia pardoned and freed Schibbye and Persson after they were jailed for 'supporting terrorism' for illegally crossing into Ethiopia from Somalia with rebels.


Anders Wiklund

BOSTON — We live in perilous times for telling the truth.

Every day, journalists around the world are being detained, threatened, tortured and killed for the work they do. As readers of this blog know full well, last year was the worst year on record for journalists being killed on the job, since the International Press Institute and Committee to Protect Journalists starting keeping track in 1997. This year is not much better.

The peril come at a time of great change in the media business with so many traditional news organizations struggling in the digital age and forced to cut back on foreign coverage because it is too costly, or too risky, or both. As the risks increase, the number of staff reporters in the field is shrinking and the number of freelancers is rising.

Amid these changes, the Frontline Club in London has become an oasis for journalism and particularly for freelancers.

Frontline founder Vaughan Smith today is launching the founding of a representative body for freelance foreign and conflict journalists to be called the Frontline Freelance Registry. He also released an important document, the Frontline Safety Initiative, which addresses safety concerns in the industry.

"Freelance journalists are increasingly vital to foreign and conflict reporting. Today’s freelancers deliver new energy into our trade, but their physical and mental safety, particularly when covering dangerous conflicts like Syria, tests the industry’s attitude and responsibilities towards them. Most freelancers also lack proper institutional support that would allow them to practice their work safely and responsibly in the long term," explains Smith, a longtime freelance cameraman and producer who has worked with the BBC and many other news organizations in conflict zones around the world.

The Frontline Freelance Registry marks the "first time freelancers have come together to address the current gaps in the media landscape and to take responsibility for their own safety and security," Smith added.

It aims to "provide a sense of community," he said, and "to ensure its members observe responsible newsgathering and safety standards."

A key document informing the work of the FFR is the Freelance Safety Initiative white paper which considers how news organizations and journalists working in conflict areas might further improve their safety, with a particular emphasis on the well-being of freelance contributors. The paper offers practical suggestions to improve the welfare of freelancers and provides solid recommendations in the following areas: duty of care, digital security, training and insurance.

In the spirit of transparency, I should say that I am a founding member of Frontline and on the Board of Trustees. But I don' think my support for its work undercuts the importance of sharing the great initiative Smith has just launched.

Establishing this global registry of freelancers (with 70 signed up even prior to launch,) underscores the collapse of the traditional media and the fact that a growing number of journalists are realizing that they will have to set out on their own and find a way to do the work that matters in underreported corners of the world through freelance.

GlobalPost relies every day on a stellar network of freelancers around the world and we're very proud to work with so many great journalists. We have tried our best to create a culture that respects freelancers by offering them opportunities to do good work and by doing our best to ensure that they operate safely in the field. When bad things happen, as was the case with freelance correspondent James Foley who remains missing in Syria, we take our responsibility very seriously. We have our own safety manual which is titled GroundTruth: A Field Guide for Correspondents. It is available to all and we hope it might make a very nice complement to the Frontline Safety Report.

As we head off to Burma to train 20 top, young journalists in partnership with the New York-based Open Hands Initiative, we are quickly printing up Frontline's Safety Report and making sure each member of our team has a copy with them and that they read it carefully.

Smith and Frontline are to be applauded for producing the report and taking up the role of pulling together the community of freelancers who increasingly are the lifeblood of foreign reporting in the digital age.