Journalism Toolkit Unveiled at Online News Association Conference Helps Address 2020 Woes

By Julian Hayda

When I interviewed for my position as the inaugural Newmark Journalist Scholar at the Global Cyber Alliance earlier this year, my now-colleagues and I discussed some pretty heady topics: Internet access as a human right, the meaning of a “trustworthy” Internet, and the blurring of connective utilities and social media platforms. It was perhaps one of the most exhilarating conversations I’ve had all year—one that touched on pretty much every global issue we’ve all been dealing with this year. At the end of the conversation, one of my interlocutors (I can’t remember who) said something along the lines of “Well, not every conversation will be this fun at the GCA. We do hard work around here.”

Indeed, the GCA team has been hard at work this past year making sure cybersecurity solutions get to the people who need them most. But “work hard, play hard,” right? That’s why it should be no surprise that our hard work culminated in perhaps the most exhilarating conversation I’ve been part of all year: unveiling the GCA’s Cybersecurity Toolkit for Journalists at the 2020 Online News Association Conference. GCA’s Megan Stifel unveiled our toolkit, then we got into it with two super-talented and journalism-focused ethical hackers: Runa Sandvik, formerly of the New York Times, and Ahana Datta, formerly of the Financial Times. 

Thousands of people typically attend the ONA conference which (as you’d expect) was moved to a virtual format this year. Given the new format (and many professionals’ new COVID-19 realities), a top concern was navigating cyberspace in a manner that protects both journalists and their sources. On one hand, a presentation from The Intercept’s Director of Information Security, Micah Lee, attracted reporters who are increasingly dependent on vulnerable whistleblowers communicating online, while another workshop from PEN America and the Freedom of the Press Foundation taught marginalized reporters how to avoid getting Doxxed or harassed through cyber vulnerabilities.

GCA’s presentation was able to tie up many of the conference’s cybersecurity-related sessions in a neat, holistic bow, with tangible resources and concrete advice for all journalists. The panelists underscored that cybersecurity need not be a chore for journalists who are doing ever-more on fewer-than-ever resources.

“I think it’s somewhat counterproductive to say that cybersecurity is ‘yet another thing’ that you’ve got to look after,” said Ahana during the session. “You wouldn’t be asking the same question of social media, or using laptops, or phones to be able to do your job.

With natural disasters the likes of which we’ve never seen in our lifetimes, a rekindled reckoning over racial equity, a global pandemic, constitutional crises, and dangerous ideologies bubbling up, the ways in which journalists communicate has never been more vulnerable, in part because the Internet mediates just about every human interaction today.

“Cybersecurity can help support and complement the work that’s going on today. We’re always looking for ways to securely organize, securely communicate, securely share information,” said Runa. “Digital security underpins everything that we do, not that it necessarily takes priority over those things.”

Fortunately, instead of just lamenting on this problem, GCA has real solutions in the journalists’ toolkit, and we’re excited to keep getting new tools submitted to make journalists and their sources even safer online. In the words of the toolkit’s sponsor, Craig Newmark, it’s “the real deal.” 



For me, doing this work has helped me avoid slipping into despair in what’s proven to be a difficult year. And talking with dozens of talented and hardworking journalists at the ONA conference, our forward-thinking panelists, and my GCA team every day proves that solving the challenges can also be pretty dang fun too.

The author, Julian Hayda, is the Craig Newmark Journalist Scholar at the Global Cyber Alliance. You can follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.