Look Ahead: Salama Provides a Free Risk Assessment For Journalists and Media Organizations

In today’s world, reporters have more than just stressful deadlines and less than cooperative sources to deal with. As the threats toward journalists continue to rise throughout the world, so does the need for them to stay safe on the job. With Salama, journalists can receive free risk assessments, advice and training resources to ensure their safety.

The way it works is simple. Users are given about 30 questions related to topics such as the issues they report on and their digital security knowledge in order to produce a risk score and customized tips to help make themselves safer. The process typically takes about 10 minutes for individuals. Media organizations can also use the app to improve staff training and evaluate what resources they should allocate to strengthen the overall safety of their operations.

Additionally, Salama maintains a security library, which provides up-to-date advice on encryption, secure passwords and other digital security topics.

The web application was created by International Center for Journalists Knight Fellow Jorge Luis Sierra, who several years ago noticed a particular need among small to medium size media organizations. While major news outlets such as the New York Times hired security staffers or paid the services of consultants and private companies to conduct risk assessments, other media organizations didn’t have a financially viable option available.

Jorge Luis Sierra displays Salama on his phone.

“I started to think of a way for journalists to measure their level of risk by answering questions about how often they were involved in dangerous assignments, developed sensitive sources, got confidential documents or visited risk zones rife with gangs and organized crime,” Sierra said. “I also included questions about how often the journalists use strong verification methods and ethical frameworks to produce stories.”

The word “Salama” derives from a popular Arabic word used to express best wishes to a person who is leaving home or the workplace.

“It’s also a word to say ‘take care’ when a colleague journalist leaves the newsroom to cover a dangerous assignment,” Sierra said. “I heard that word many times when I visited Iraq in 2003 and 2013.”

According to Sierra, about 1,000 journalists have used Salama in countries such as the U.S., Mexico and Colombia. So far, he said the feedback from journalists has been positive, and often the results prove to be a surprise for many of its first time users.

“Some of them didn’t expect to hear that they were at a high risk,” Sierra said. “That first impression is strong as many journalists tend to ignore their own vulnerabilities and don’t have an accurate assessment of the risks they face.”

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