Advancing Digital Safety for Journalists and Small Media Outlets in Southeastern and Central Europe

Journalists and independent media outlets based in Southeastern and Central Europe work in challenging environments characterized by media ownership concentration, job insecurity, and hostility from state and non-state actors in the form of digital targeting and espionage. Many of these journalists, particularly freelancers, do not have support to address such threats, and as a result, are often ill-equipped to respond to increasingly complex online attacks.  Internews is launching a new initiative designed to support local journalists (with a focus on freelance journalists) and small independent media outlets in Southeastern and Central Europe by helping them prevent, mitigate, and respond to online attacks by combining proven digital safety training methods with state-of-the-art, innovative scenario-based trainings.  

The project consists of three core components:  


Through this initiative, Internews localizes digital safety expertise by building a regional network of digital security trainers and digital safety ambassadors within the journalist community.  Internews has found that a community-based approach can be highly effective when working with at-risk communities. We will identify experienced journalists or trainers that are well-connected and respected within the journalist community. We will then upskill them in basic digital safety, enabling them to become trusted ambassadors for digital safety within their existing network.  Selected trainers and journalists will participate in two skill-building workshops, which serve as an entry-point for the journalists new to digital safety and a space to coordinate and develop a shared approach to digital safety training. Workshop participants will also develop custom outreach materials and other relevant documentation to support freelance journalists and small independent media outlets facing digital attacks. These activities will ultimately bring the community to a baseline level of security and build the contextual basis required for the in-depth, scenario-based trainings, as described below. 


Through this project, we will create safe spaces for journalists to explore more advanced threats, such as online hate speech and doxxing, by developing customized real-world, scenario-based trainings. These trainings, which will utilize tools such as table top exercises, and virtual reality, will allow journalists to practice responding to cutting-edge attacks that can be virtually visualized, experienced, felt, and understood.  


We acknowledge that journalists who are members of marginalized communities often face new threats, or a different intensity of threats. They could have trouble finding tools and solutions localized to their use case, and could be a bigger target of harassment campaigns. For this reason, we will be launching an additional workshop that specifically focuses on journalists within marginalized communities, as to better understand their needs and design appropriate trainings and resources. 


To scale and reinforce understanding of effective collective security approaches, this project creates spaces for trainers, journalists, and other Internet freedom experts to convene to share common threats, lessons learned, and best practices. These convenings will allow trainers and journalists to map shared threats, develop relevant incident response plans, and explore the successes and challenges associated with implementing scenario-based trainings. Though Internews is piloting this initiative in Southeastern and Central Europe, our hope is that this approach can be applied within other at-risk communities around the world in the future.   

Through this program’s scenario-based trainings based on real-world threats, Internews will build problem-solving skills and help journalists develop their own responses and long-term defensive strategies in the face of continually shifting attacks. By developing shared approaches to safety measures and responses, Internews will support a broad range of freelance, at-risk journalists and small independent media outlets to evaluate attacks against journalists, identify trends, and implement digital safety responses across borders and regions. These activities will enable journalists and local trainers to better identify and resist the of repressive regimes and other malign influences, and continue their work of promoting high quality, trusted, information where it is most urgently needed.