Staying Safe While Covering Civil Unrest

INN has compiled the following resources and best practices for covering civil unrest. If you have links or events to add, please, email

Upcoming Training Webinars

Apply for 2021 Fellowship: Covering the Statehouse in a Time of Crisis - National Press Foundation
Deadline is Monday, Jan. 25, 2021 
As state legislatures prepare to open their 2021 sessions, legislators, governors and other local officials are beginning to plan for bruising battles over redistricting. Many experts predict a repeat of the contentious 2010 battles to redraw legislative and congressional lines that will affect U.S. electoral outcomes for the next decade. Starting in February, National Press Foundation will hold a series of online workshops to help journalists master these increasingly important beats. On the horizon in 2021 are plummeting state and local tax revenue; new U.S. Census numbers and the related issues of redistricting and gerrymandering; COVID costs and containment efforts; rising health-care costs; campaign finance; and the health of state and local pensions. Expert instructors will help journalists with accessing and localizing federal datasets; putting the impact of the federal government into context; covering Congress and the White House from afar; fact-checking, community engagement and solutions journalism; and making the most of TV or Zoom appearances.


Guidance on Covering Civil Unrest/Protests


Practical advice about covering high profile news stories during protests and upcoming election -
Useful practical and legal guidance from the National Press Photographers Association and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Amazon wish list for journalists safety gear - IMSG
The International Media Support Group’s list of favorite items of safety gear that may be useful for journalists working in the field.

25 guidelines for journalists to safely cover unrest - Poynter
Poynter’s handout of safety guidelines (updated from a previous list for covering 2020’s protests). Includes guidelines adapted from the Radio Television Digital News Association Coverage Guidelines, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

How to guard your physical and mental health while covering the inauguration - Poynter
Practical advice on preparing to work amid civil unrest from Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Sergio Olmos.

Stay Sharp — and Safe — While Covering Protests - Poynter
Poynter’s Joie Chen has a free webinar on covering protests.

Safely covering U.S. election events - CPJ
A central hub with good resources on how to mitigate digital, physical, and psychological risk; protecting your digital safety and security; and finding legal resources.

CPJ tips on safely covering civil disorder
A brief collection of guidance on how to prepare for such events; what to do in tear-gas situations; how to handle aggressors.

The James W. Foley Journalism Safety Modules
A collection of 14 modules on completing risk assessments; responsibilities of newsroom managers; safety of female and minority journalists; covering civil unrest; emotional self-care; care of sources; interviewing hostile sources; understanding journalists’ rights; the importance of diversity in newsrooms; reporting on foreign conflicts; protecting digital data; dealing with online harassment; covering weather-related stories; and reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional seminars here.

Reporting on demonstrations and civil disorder - International News Safety Institute
Practical guidance on how to prepare; what to carry on you; and what to do at the scene.

  • More INSI tips on covering demonstrations and civil disorder here
  • INSI’s guidance on what to pack in your medical pack here.
  • Guidance on what to do if you’re arrested (mainly for international, but still useful) is here.

How to Safely Cover Street Protests - DART Center
Collection of practical guidance on coverage preparation; positioning; clothing; tear gas and pepper spray; gear and food; and hostile law enforcement.

Legal Defense and FOIA hotline - Reporters Committee on Freedom of the Press
The Reporters Committee Legal Defense and FOIA Hotline is available to journalists and media lawyers either through the website during normal business hours (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. ET) or in an emergency — for example, if a journalist has been arrested or faces an imminent threat of arrest — by calling 1-800-336-4243.

The Press Freedom Defense Fund is available to help at

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents press freedom violations. You can report an incident here.

Link to JSafe, a phone-based app from the Reynolds Journalism Institute to help journalists fight threats against them and find resources they need when they find themselves in threatening situations.

Tips from Other Journalists

Tips from Franc Contreras - broadcast journalist based in Latin America

  • Guard a safe distance from your interviewees if you are meeting them in person.
  • For broadcast journos, get a boom for your shotgun mic (which is better at distances); use a long cable or wireless transmitter; and place a protective plastic bag over the mic. After interviews, toss the bag in a secure trash bin. Use a disinfectant on the mic, boom and cable after each use.
  • Take disinfectant gel and extra face masks.
  • Do not place yourself in tight, closed places with many others.
  • Write your name, your emergency contact’s name and number on your arm in water-proof marker. If you get your phone smashed or you are knocked out, someone can still get you help.

Tips from Tomas Stargarter - AP photographer based in Latin America offers lots of advice for photojournalists on his blog. A few of his general tips here:

  • Always be ready to move fast. What you considered a safe location at one moment can become the frontline or no man's land.
  • A good helmet always comes in handy. Any rock climbing or bicycle helmet will give you adequate protection. Rocks and stones are always flying about during these confrontations and it's always a good idea to protect your head.
  • If you can, bring a gas mask. Apart from your helmet, it will give you great advantages in the field.
  • Bring a large bottle of water.
  • Know where the police and rioters are and pick a position either to get the pictures you want or get out. It is up to you when it's time to get out, but if you see other photojournalists moving out, it's probably a good idea that you do, too.
  • Go with a buddy. The buddy system has always helped me or my buddy when we got into trouble.

Protecting Newsrooms

Lessons learned from the Capital Gazette shooting - Security Info Watch
Lots of useful information such as how to recognize warning signs; implement layers of access control at your building; and train your staff for active assailants.

Online and Digital Safety

Staying safe online - INSI
General guidance on how to protect your electronic gear and communications through secure software and services

How To Avoid Getting Doxxed - Global Sign
Useful tips on how to protect your online information

Manage Your Privacy Settings - Stay Safe
A page with useful links to the security/privacy setting pages of dozens of sites and services

Other Resources

The International Women’s Media Foundation has a fund for U.S.-based journalists of any gender who have been targeted while reporting during political unrest. You can apply for funds here.

Trauma & Journalism: A Practical Guide - DART Center
This 31-page booklet gives guidance to journalists, editors, managers and other media professionals on working with traumatic material. It offers tips on interviewing, highlights common mistakes made in trauma reporting and suggests what individuals and media teams can do to look after themselves while working in challenging situations.

Hostile environments training and support - Global Journalist Society
GJS works for news, non-profit, corporate and government clients. We provide private news organizations with security consulting services and training options for staff, freelance journalists and other contributors. We offer non-governmental international organizations management security consulting services along with both general and customized training for overseas-based personnel. We offer private firms customized training and consulting services to meet their needs. We work with governmental agencies who meet our standards of transparency, multilateral organizations and private foundations to provide security training to journalists, human rights defenders and others who need it.

Journalism and Vicarious Trauma A Guide for Journalists, Editors and News Organisations
A guide from First Draft News on how to help staffers cope with graphic and violent user-generated content (UGC).