What is it and why does it matter?

All journalists should have a solid communications plan in place. But for a freelancer, it could be a life-saver. It’s easy to fall into a black hole if something were to go wrong. So what is it? Basically, it’s a plan for who and how you’re going to communicate with while you’re in the field. You’ll also need to make sure they have everything they would ever need to know in case of an emergency.
Its creation is simple:

  • choose the best person to keep in touch with while away
  • plan how you will communicate with them
  • work out who they should contact in case of emergency

Key elements:

Your communications plan needs to include:

  • how often you will be in touch with your key contact
  • through what method
  • emergency contacts on location
  • what should happen if you don’t make contact within agreed timelines
  • all personal details and your travel details (part of your risk assessment)
  • communication codes
  • use of trackers and emergency beacons, if applicable

Be as specific as possible.

Pick the right contact

  • someone who understands the role and can put the plan into action if necessary
  • a colleague can be useful as they understand the nature of the work, but you need to make sure they are available on stand-by (an editor could be ideal)
  • does not need to have journalistic experience, but needs to be trustworthy, have the ability to stay calm (which is why using family can be tricky)
  • ideally, it should be someone who is organised, will remain calm in tricky situations, and has some on-the-ground knowledge and contacts

Keeping in touch

  • think about how often you can check-in, realistically (every 12 hours? every 24 hours?)
  • whatever you agree to, make sure you actually follow up
  • if you don’t follow up
    • your contact may kick off the safety plan unnecessarily
    • your contact will be used to you missing deadlines and will not action the plan even if you are actually in trouble
  • think about adding some security to your communications to ensure authenticity (use passphrases)
  • should a passphrase not be actioned, you should have a backup method of communication
  • make sure you do a risk assessment on your communication methods

Give them the right info

  • the point of this is to give your contact everything they would need if you were to get in trouble, without the ability to reach anyone
  • the more solid the communications plan is, the easier for your safety contact to activate your emergency plan
  • you need to be ridiculously meticulous !!
  • list the contacts in the order you want them to get contacted
    • e.g. if you haven’t heard from me in 24 hours, in 48 hours, etc
  • include blood-type, insurance details, passport copies
  • rough itinerary, with as much detail as possible

What sort of info do I provide?

  • local security contact
  • relevant contacts on the ground (fixers, drivers..)
  • other journalists that are also on assignment in the same location
  • contact of the embassy on location: name and an emergency contact number.
  • other contacts that may be in a position to help in case of emergency (lawyers, government officials)
  • if applicable, the commissioning editor or main contact for the media organisations you’re working for
  • place contacts in the order in which they should be contacted, give dialling codes, preferred language of communication, some info as to their credentials if possible

Next of Kin

  • agree in advance who you want to name as next of kin (contacted in case of emergency)

Communications Plan Template

The Rory Peck Trust provides a nice one-page template for your communications plan: