Understanding the Risks of Starting a Podcast in Investigative Journalism

Published On: February 22, 2024Categories: Media, Risk Assessment

In the ever-expanding realm of podcasting, few genres captivate audiences as thoroughly as investigations and true crime, exemplified by hits like Serial and My Favorite Murder. These podcasts dive deep into the darker aspects of life, delving into the complexities of motive, morality, and justice. Many shed light on overlooked cases, wrongful convictions, and systemic issues in the criminal justice system.

In many ways, the emerging form of true crime podcasting closely resembles the time-honoured tradition of investigative journalism – both in their shared mission of unveiling hidden narratives and confronting significant security risks inherent to sensitive storytelling.

The Risk Impact of Creating Investigative Journalism Podcasts

The security concerns for those associated with high-risk investigative journalism range from online harassment to threats of physical retaliation or legal repercussions.

However, many new podcasts are produced by ambitious media startups that lack institutional safety protocols and investigative risk experience. As a result, investigative podcasters often find themselves navigating an increasingly perilous threat landscape without the safety blanket of established structures – and it can be a steep learning curve.

Novel is a podcast startup dedicated to making bingeable investigative stories. They have produced hits like The Bellingcat Podcast, uncovering the truth behind the Malaysian passenger flight shot down over Ukraine, and The Assault on America, an eight-part investigation into the 2021 US Capital riots. RiskPal proudly supports Novel as they build experience and processes to navigate the threats they encounter.

Concept art of female journalist doing an audio recording

Tips & Safety Concerns for Investigative Journalists

RiskPal often provides guidance to podcasters on safety in the following areas: 

  • Doorstepping is a common tactic in reporting that entails approaching someone uninvited at their home and asking them questions. This approach can go badly wrong if the interviewee reacts violently or is in a vulnerable state, potentially harming their health and wellbeing. We work closely with clients, such as Novel, to conduct thorough risk assessments of all potential scenarios, identifying pitfalls and devising strategies to mitigate them effectively.  
  • Protecting sources and whistleblowers is paramount. This process starts as early as possible at the outset of the investigation and must ensure that all documentation is managed carefully to maintain confidentiality. Techniques to protect identities can include voice modulation or employing actors. In some cases, RiskPal may assist podcasters in preparing to resist legal efforts to compel them to disclose their sources. 
  • Digital intrusion poses a significant threat to individuals involved in investigative reporting, including podcasters. It’s crucial for podcasters to anticipate the potential for harassment, doxxing, and even swatting, all of which can be highly intimidating and distressing. Addressing digital footprints and fortifying vulnerabilities such as passwords and financial account safety is imperative. Teams must also be mentally prepared to face potential online attacks. Cases of severe threats, podcast companies may need to consider security measures such as relocation, home fortification, and providing protection for loved ones. 

RiskPal: Safeguarding Journalists in High-Stake Investigations

At RiskPal, we take pride in our commitment to supporting investigative journalism. Successful security management hinges on thorough risk assessment. Leveraging our cutting-edge risk assessment platform and a team of experienced security professionals, we empower our clients to prioritise the safety of their staff and provide comprehensive guidance across all facets of risk management.

Logo, Novel Audio Ltd

RiskPal’s advisors are always incredibly helpful in providing their expertise to ensure risk assessments are thorough and that the team is aware of all safety options and precautions. Technical support is also available from their team whenever we need to be walked through functions of the site and its user-friendly interface means all team members can easily jump into the platform when needed. This is especially helpful when working with freelancers.” – Cheree Houston

As part of our comprehensive services, we provide invaluable support to our clients in identifying potential risks, assessing their implications for both individuals and the organisation at large, and offering expert guidance in effectively mitigating or avoiding these risks. Harnessing the innovative capabilities of the RiskPal platform, our clients gain access to a streamlined process for generating digital risk assessments. With customisable templates tailored to their specific needs and a wealth of safety advice available at their fingertips, our clients can confidently navigate complex security challenges with ease and efficiency.

Logo, Novel Audio Ltd

We have benefited from the ease of the platform when planning logistically difficult production travel. It creates a clear log of accountability as there is a history of who has added in details, when it has been approved and also allows you to attach documents to the risk assessment which can provide greater detail of the production, for all stakeholders who will be accessing the risk assessment.” – Cheree Houston

Summary

Investigations and true crime podcasts also represent the democratisation of media production. With the advent of affordable recording equipment and online distribution platforms, anyone with a compelling story to tell can become a podcaster. This has led to a proliferation of diverse voices and perspectives within the genre, catering to various interests and tastes.

If you are curious about the world, the darker aspects of human nature, and have a desire for social change – then making a podcast has never been easier. So pick up a microphone and get recording. And call us if you need some safety advice.

At RiskPal, we empower safety and security leaders to drive safety engagement within their organisation. RiskPal is a smart risk assessment platform that streamlines safety processes. We are dedicated to making safety simple and compliance straight forward. Reach out if you have any questions or need assistance in enhancing your safety and risk management processes.

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