The relationship between a reporter and their sources is sacred. The integrity, trustworthiness and effectiveness of news media largely hinge on the quality of this relationship. Journalists bear the weighty responsibility of ensuring that the news they present is accurate, fair, and balanced. Their sources often risk a great deal—be it their reputation, their privacy, or even their safety—to provide this information. Therefore, the manner in which journalists communicate with these sources becomes paramount not only to the success of individual stories but also to the credibility of the media establishment at large.
In an era where doxxing, digital surveillance and data breaches are everyday happenings, the technology that journalists employ to protect their sources is crucial. Applications such as Signal offer end-to-end encrypted messaging, ensuring that the contents of their communications remain secure and private. Similarly, ProtonMail provides encrypted email services, giving both journalists and their sources the peace of mind that their exchanges are shielded from prying eyes. Such tools are not mere accessories; they are fundamental to the ethical safeguarding of sources and the preservation of trust.
We recommend that journalists always follow best practices and take the necessary digital precautions to ensure the safety of sources. For journalists, embracing and understanding the technologies necessary for protecting sources isn’t just about staying ahead; it’s about upholding the very tenets of their profession.
Guides & Best Practices
Blue Print for Free Speech
The Perugia Principles for Journalists Working with Whistleblowers in the Digital Age by Julie Posetti, Suelette Dreyfus, and Naomi Colvin
This is a practical, hands-on guide for journalists working with whistleblowers and confidential sources who may require anonymity or other forms of protection. Developed by an international group of investigative journalists, the guide defines the “Perugia Principles,” outlines steps for putting them into practice, and details any relevant legal concepts and standards. Additionally, some of the principles have sections, including how to address specific risks, exceptions to the rule, and/or a case study.
Committee to Protect Journalists
Digital and Physical Safety: Protecting Confidential Sources
This is a general introduction on protecting confidential sources written for an international audience. It includes tips and guidance on how to plan communication with these sources, assess risk, receive documents, anonymize sources, maintain confidentiality and more.
Electronic Frontier Foundation
This online guide links to a vast number of resources, including explanations about the basics of secure communications, how-to explainers, deep-dives and security scenarios. One specific resource included in the guide is focused on “Communicating with Others,” offering insights to journalists needing to protect their sources.
Government Accountability Project
Working with Whistleblowers: A Guide for Journalists
The guide provides critical information to help journalists navigate working with whistleblowers. Though not a comprehensive guide, it includes an entire section focused on best practices for securely communicating with sources.
There are several reputable, non-partisan organizations and institutions that offer research, insights and trainings into secure communications with sources. Here are some that journalists might find useful:
Freedom of The Press Foundation provides various training documents and resources for journalists on best practices for communicating with sources. These include Signal for Beginners, Upgrading WhatsApp Security, and ProtonMail like a Pro.
Committee to Protect Journalists is a global organization that promotes press freedom and defends the rights of journalists. They’ve published various materials and guides to help journalists secure their communications and protect themselves and their sources.
Reporters Without Borders is an international non-profit committed to press freedom and the safety of journalists, media assistants, and public citizens worldwide. They’ve created resources addressing the security concerns of journalists in the digital age.
The Tor Project, which is primarily known for the Tor Browse, also provides tools to ensure their online activities and communications remain confidential. It is part of SecureDrop, an open-source whistleblower submission system. (The SecureDrop system does need to be set up for your organization ahead of time.)
How journalists can develop secure communication with sources in the Age of the Internet by Angelica Arinze
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
Five digital security tools to protect your work and sources by Spencer Woodman
Reporters Without Borders
Journalists should use Signal to protect themselves and their sources by Ben Finn
Here are 12 principles journalists should follow to make sure they’re protecting their sources by Joshua Benton