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With violence against journalists around the world making headlines, local newsroom security is becoming more top-of-mind.
According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, journalists were assaulted 45 times in 2017. On 43 of those occasions, the reporters were covering a local demonstration, event, or crime scene. In the first nine months of 2018, 36 journalists have already been attacked (more than half were local reporters covering local stories). Five journalists have been killed so far this year. All five worked at the Capital Gazette, a local newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland. Following this newsroom shooting, Joel Simon (executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists) noted:
“Most violence committed against journalists is not against the Washington press corps, it’s against journalists working in the local communities. If someone has a beef with you, and you’re a local reporter, it can get ugly in a hurry because you’re accessible. … Our data suggest that journalists are often threatened before attacked. Every newsroom should come up with a protocol.”
Growing Awareness of Media Vulnerabilities Follows Newsroom Shooting
Across the country, local news agencies are becoming more aware that they may be in the crosshairs. In mid-September a Total Security Solutions (TSS) employee attending a Department of Homeland Security active shooter preparedness training meeting found himself surrounded by local journalists and newsroom employees. But these reporters weren’t working on a story about active-shooter preparedness; they were attending the training.
That same month, the annual conference of the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) included panels specifically addressing newsroom shootings and security for media professionals.
One major theme was situational awareness. As C. Danny Spriggs, vice president of global security at the Associated Press, explained, “I don’t know what a terrorist or a bad guy looks like. I do know what suspicious or unusual behavior looks like.” Spriggs further noted that this awareness extends beyond the newsroom and a given moment. When a threat is persistent or includes details about journalists’ personal lives, it is serious and warrants contacting the authorities.
Another major theme was time. Trif Alatzas is the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Baltimore Sun Media Group. (The Baltimore Sun Media Group own the Capital Gazette, where five journalists were shot and killed in June of this year.) Alatzas told attendees of the annual ASNE conference, “What we learned is that if somebody wants to get in, they can force their way in. The key is how do you give people more time” to react and escape.
Slowing a Newsroom Shooting Can Save Lives
The Capital Gazette shooting is an especially distressing example. According to various reports, police were on the scene within 90 seconds of the first 911 calls. That’s an excellent response time. Still, five people died when the alleged shooter gained access to the locked newsroom by blasting through a set of glass double doors with a shotgun.
“You need access control,” says TSS CEO Jim Richards, “They had that. But you also need a barrier that will actually slow someone down. We’ve done TV stations relatively regularly over the last five years. You need to think about how many local TV stations there are across the country, and how small they often are. So, on the one hand, you don’t have much of a budget for hiring security staff. But on the other hand, you are right there, very prominent in the local community, very exposed to someone who might be ready to snap.”
Securing a building like this, where they already have access control in place, can be very straightforward. TSS makes and installs standard all-glass or all-acrylic doors that will stop shotgun blasts without breaching. Such doors easily integrate with any access control system, and can be installed overnight.
There’s no reason that arriving in 90 seconds is too late to stop this sort of attack on the media.