A few months ago the Dart Center for Trauma and Journalism gathered together some of the top media organizations in the world and hashed out principles for ethical conduct for freelancers and publications that operate in conflict zones. The guidelines are not legally binding, but they are an important first step in reforming the often-broken relationship between publications, journalists and the stories they both want to get into print. As I’ve written over the last year, bad contracts, kill fees and uncertain payments often push freelance writers to take additional risks in conflict zones that can either result in bad reporting, or sometimes even a journalist’s life.
The guidelines issue recommendations for medical training, protective gear, risk assessment as well as transparent payment policies, and credit. They also agree that publications should be responsible for ransom and evacuation of freelancers in the same way that they would be for their own employees. These guidelines are a huge step forward from the previous era where news organizations might simply disavow a freelance writer or photographer who got in trouble while on assignment.
So far there are 60 signatories to the document, but there are still a few notable exceptions that routinely have freelance writers operating in potentially dangerous areas. It’s time to urge The New York Times, National Public Radio, Conde Nast, Wenner Media, Atlantic Media, and American Public Media to stand up for the safety of the the people who put their lives in their name.
Like many non-binding documents, only time will tell if they signatories are ready to make this more than an on-paper commitment, but something they will act on during a crisis. I have hope that they will.
I’ll post the complete guidelines and signatories below. Please share them.