On the Front Lines of Democracy: Empowering Journalists During #Elections2024

First Stop: Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin

2024 is proving to be one of the most contentious election years in the history of the United States. Meanwhile, mistrust toward journalists and the media are skyrocketing, especially at the local level. Just last week, RSF ranked the U.S. 55th on the 2024 World Press Freedom Index – 10 spots lower than in 2023. The threats journalists face are real and have dire consequences for our democracy; at the IWMF, we knew we needed to be proactive this election cycle.

To prepare and protect journalists covering 2024 elections, the IWMF hit the road this year for our Newsroom Safety Across America initiative, bringing our holistic, identity-centric, wraparound safety training model to local journalists across the U.S.

Since March, we’ve visited Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, equipping 300 journalists with skills including situational awareness, risk assessment, legal rights knowledge, trauma management, first aid and digital security. The journalists we’re working with are sharing valuable insight about the realities of reporting on this election cycle. Here is what we have learned from our first four stops:


Starting our tour of the country in Phoenix, Arizona, we heard first-hand about the challenges of reporting from the Southern Border. In addition to navigating difficult relationships with border police, our participants also expressed concern about covering extremism, talking to 2020 election deniers, and even reporting in extreme heat during the summer.

Our colleagues from the Reporters Committee lead a session.

The threats these participants had already faced were telling: In a pre-survey, 38% had been threatened with or experienced incidents of physical violence in their work, 23% had been threatened with or experienced legal or political threats, and 32% had experienced digital threats. Working for small local outlets, many had never previously received formal safety training to know how to respond. Thanks to our day-long training, journalists were able to come away better prepared for what they may face in the upcoming months. As one participant, Michel Marizco of KJZZ, said:

“…I appreciated the insights into law enforcement deployments; the options introduced for gear in the field and all the different perspectives for how to continue reporting in the face of threat. I thought the scenarios you created were extremely realistic for Arizona journalism and smartly rendered. I felt like we covered a week’s worth of in-depth training and it has stuck with me.”

Our trainer leads a session on personal security and risk assessment.
Workshop participants brainstorm a risk mitigation plan.


Of the states we’ve visited thus far, Georgia had by far the most participants who had faced threats and hostile encounters with law enforcement. Some journalists drove more than 5 hours to participate. We held trainings in Savannah and in Atlanta, where the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center – commonly known as “Cop City” – has caused significant controversy and protests resulting in police violence. Journalists faced harassment and intimidation covering issues ranging from immigration to the State house. While Arizona’s survey statistics were alarming, Georgia’s were staggering half of our participants had been threatened with or experienced physical violence in the course of their work, and 42% had experienced digital threats.

Journalists in the training reported an increasingly hostile climate toward the media, including growing misinformation sowing distrust. Nearly one third of our participants (29%) had been threatened with or faced legal or political threats due to their work. To prepare for these threats, we are partnering with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) in each state to ensure participants have access to and can learn about their legal rights for reporting on protest, police, elections and government in their respective states. Highlighting the importance and accessibility of these trainings, one journalist shared in a post-training survey:

“Thank you for traveling across the country to offer this training opportunity. It can be difficult and expensive to attend more than one or two conferences/trainings a year, so having them come to you like this is just fantastic. Thank you for being accessible.”

Workshop participants brainstorm a risk mitigation plan.


In Pennsylvania, we visited Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Harrisburg – three significantly different reporting environments. While journalists in Philadelphia worried about covering large-scale protests and rallies, those in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh expressed greater concern about reporting alone from rural areas.

Workshop participants brainstorm a risk mitigation plan.

Across all cities, the threats felt imminent. One newsroom had faced a bomb threat in connection to their coverage of LGBTQI+ issues just before the training. Another reporter had been attacked online for their reporting on an extremist candidate. Our Pennsylvania participants reported similar threat levels: 43% had been threatened with or experienced physical violence in their work, 25% had been threatened with or experienced legal or political threats, and 31% had experienced digital threats.

In such a diverse state, our unique model of location-specific training became even more important, allowing us to address the specific concerns of the journalists in each city we visited.

Our trainer demonstrates how to securely barricade a door during a security threat.


Many of our Wisconsin participants were planning to cover the Republican National Convention this summer, which poses not only the typical challenges of reporting from a large event, but also one that may be a hostile environment toward journalists. Their concerns are valid: participants who had covered Trump rallies reported being put into press pens, after which the former president led the crowd to boo them (similar incidents were reported in Georgia and Pennsylvania).

Our trainer leads a session on personal security and protecting your identity.

More than in other states, the threats in Wisconsin felt looming rather than current. Our survey results reflected this sentiment: 22% had been threatened with or experienced incidents of physical violence in their work, 29% had been threatened with or experienced legal or political threats, and 30% had experienced digital threats. While slightly lower than in other states, our eyes must be turned to Wisconsin this election season, particularly during the RNC.

Our trainer leads a session on Bio-psycho-social safety.

Across every state we’ve visited, journalists are still recovering from civil unrest in 2020 and trying to learn from their experiences four years ago. We feel this mission deeply as we work to meet – or even precede – the moment. In each city, we learn more about the realities journalists are facing this election cycle and improve our ability to proactively support and anticipate their needs.

This month, we’ll be in Michigan, North Carolina and Nevada. Find our open applications at https://www.iwmf.org/newsroomsafety24/. Keep an eye out here for more reflections from the road!