by Elisabet Cantenys
Back in September 2014, a group of editors met in New York and Chicago to grapple with the horrifying murders of James Foley and Steven Sotloff in Syria and to devise ways of promoting freelance journalists’ safety. No one could have ever imagined their talks would catch fire. During the following months, they drafted together with the Overseas Press Club and other journalism organizations the Freelance Journalist Safety Principles, a document that outlines a set of safety standards for news organizations and freelancers alike. Soon this informal movement crystallized into the ACOS Alliance.
ACOS stands for A Culture Of Safety. We bring together news organizations, freelance journalist associations and press freedom NGOs to champion safe and responsible journalistic practices, and ultimately embed a culture of safety in our community. Fueled by the urgency of our mission, we have become a unique strategic coalition. Our Principles have been signed by more than 100 global news wire services, U.S. TV news networks and major U.S. and European non-profit journalism organizations.
Early on, we realized it wasn’t enough for us to just collect signatories for our Principles. We needed to undertake concrete and practical initiatives, and engage news organizations and editors in our discussions and activities. That’s what’s been keeping us so busy. Over the past two years, we have been involved in 27 safety training sessions through which we have created new partnerships between NGOs and news outlets and have produced cost-effective safety training alternatives. More than 350 local reporters and international freelance journalists have directly benefited from our training activities, not only in the U.S. and Europe but also in Colombia, Mexico, Lebanon, Turkey, Thailand, Philippines, Uganda and Kenya.
Because we believe editors are instrumental in working with the best-trained freelancers and making assignments as safe as possible, we have also organized editor’s safety workshops and 90 assigning editors have directly benefited from these, mostly in the U.S. but also in France, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines.
Providing insurance for free- Creating a culture of safety for freelancers lancers has kept us preoccupied since Day One. The ACOS Alliance, working with our fiscal sponsor, the Overseas Press Club Foundation, is keen to facilitate access to affordable insurance for freelancers and local journalists, regardless of their nationality or location. Ground-breaking insurance options should soon be available to all, including fixers, stringers, drivers and translators.
We are also developing practical resources: guidelines for news organizations to create and improve their own safety protocols, freelance contract templates that emphasize safety, best practice recommendations for journalism grant-makers, and an industry standard for safety training.
As an alliance, our drive and stamina is fueled by our community. Our December coordination meetings in New York have become a must-go-to event. These day-long gatherings result in productive discussions, collaborative initiatives and the exchange of valuable information. We are using our power to convene to build trust and forge a shared sense of purpose.
Although we are proud of our achievements, we are humbled by the challenges ahead of us. Freelance and local journalists are more needed than ever, and yet remain vulnerable. Safety training continues to be inaccessible to many journalists worldwide. Much work remains.
We have been funded by the Open Society Foundations and the MacArthur Foundation and are deeply grateful to them. And we are grateful to all of you attending the OPC Awards Dinner. Together, we are making good things happen.’
Elisabet Cantenys is the executive director of ACOS.