Ensuring privacy for journalists

Mike Tigas held a workshop on Oct. 14 concerning the importance of making privacy a priority for journalists.

It’s common sense to lock your doors when leaving for school or work if you don’t want somebody to stroll in and take your belongings. More often than not though, modern journalists are leaving their digital doors wide open for hackers to steal valuable information that could be used against them.

Mike Tigas, a news application developer at ProPublica, held a workshop on Oct. 14 called “AlbertHong” in conjunction with the Center for Public Interest Journalism, to shed some light on the dangers of “unlocked” computer doors.

While Tigas’ expertise deals more with computer science, he worked with newspapers at the University of Missouri and also after graduating. Now, he delves into both industries by developing and reporting for ProPublica’s mission of public interest journalism, as well as educating journalists on the issue of digital security.

“Everything we do is using computers and digital,” Tigas said. “A lot of people work on their stories and they email drafts back and forth. It’s a lot of issues that play into the way we use technology that not everybody necessarily thinks about.”

As simple as it may be for a hacker to invade your privacy through something as simple as email, there are tools for basic protection that anybody can use and apply to their technology.

A password manager, like the free 1Password, is one tool Tigas explained, which is designed to generate random passwords and store them for the various sites and services journalists may use.

Other preventative measures include regular software updates, full-disk encryption, anonymous Internet browsers like Tor and OTR, the acronym for “off the record,” and encryption of instant message communications.

The most basic way for any journalist to approach digital security, as Tigas put it, is with threat modeling, which involves the pre-evaluation of any possibly dangerous situation by asking “who, what, why and how.”

“Just stopping and thinking before signing up for a random service or entrusting your pictures and work documents to that,” Tigas said. “You don’t want to be an easy target.”

This digital security workshop is the first of what Andrew Mendelson, director of the Center for Public Interest Journalism and Assistant Director Jim MacMillan hope to become a continuing series looking into the different tech trends arising in the industry.

It was actually at last year’s Online News Association Conference where Mendelson and MacMillan knew that these kinds of issues had to be touched upon, especially with the threats they could have to journalists’ integrity.

In April of last year, hackers took over the Associated Press’ Twitter account in order to post untrue information that President Obama had been injured after the White House was bombed. This caused the stock market to drop instantly.

“When we think about getting your platforms hacked, what that does to your integrity or your identity as a reliable source?” MacMillan said. “The ramifications of poor digital hygiene are very serious. Be responsible, don’t cause problems for your colleagues, your news organization and your profession.”

The CPIJ has already held workshops and discussions on topics like watchdog reporting, solutions journalism and monetization while also partnering with other groups like the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association to talk about healthcare in the LGBTQ communities.

This push for public interest journalism clearly involves many different layers, and one goal is to allow journalists to be able to use technology for stories that can incite change.

Tigas’ works with Tabula, a free tool for extracting data from PDF files for use in Excel, which allows journalists to access information that may not be easily accessible.

“Real investigative work takes a while to come together. While it may not be the most ‘poppiest’ looking story on somebody’s front page, these are really important stories,” Tigas said. “We actually almost care more if a judge will see something we write about corruption or an official will see something that we write and make better decisions based on that.”

Tigas said technology will continue to be more of a part of nearly all careers and it’s a responsibility to know more about what we’re getting ourselves into.

“I think that technology in all fields are merging in really unusual ways that we couldn’t have thought of even 10 years ago,” Tigas said. “It affects more than just journalists.”

Albert Hong can be reached at albert.hong@temple.edu

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