In light of recent threats against news organizations, the Radio Television Digital News Association is fighting to protect its members and recruiting nontraditional members to act as allies in its “Fear Will Not Silence Facts” campaign.
Two weeks ago, when several high-profile politicians and two CNN newsrooms were targeted with mailed pipe bombs, the Radio Television Digital News Association was concerned but defiant.
“We have been saying for some time that journalists should watch their backs, but don’t back down,” says RTDNA President Dan Shelley. “And now we’re saying that fear will not silence facts, because even though the folks at CNN and other journalists have been targeted, we’ll continue to stand up to violence.”
The pipe bomb attacks on CNN are just the latest examples of violence and threats against journalists this year. To date in 2018, at least 41 journalists in the United States have been physically attacked, according to the U.S. Press Freedom tracker. And in June, five people died in a shooting at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland.
In times like these, Karen Hansen, RTDNA’s director of membership, marketing, and communications, says she’s constantly looking for opportunities to rally members and support journalism. A recent webinar, for example, offered training in how to safely cover a mass shooting, which also was an opportunity for attendees to donate to a fund for the Capital Gazette victims.
“We’ve done a couple of additional campaigns this year to remind journalists that when all eyes are on us, it’s more important than ever to stand up for each other,” Hansen says. “We’re trying to put out reminders that even though journalists are competitors who work for different stations and networks, we’ve got to have each other’s backs.”
In addition to educational programming and fundraising, RTDNA has been advocating for the safety and security of digital and broadcast journalists in the field.
“One of the things that really gives me great trepidation is the increasing use of multimedia journalists who are one-person crews sent into the field often in dangerous or volatile situations, and there’s nobody there to watch their back,” Shelley says. “I’ve been urging newsrooms not to send multimedia journalists by themselves into any area with perceived risks—that could be a political rally, a crime scene, anything.”
Meanwhile, RTDNA is conducting its annual fall membership drive. But this year, the tune and focus of that campaign are slightly different.
This year’s theme, “Fear Will Not Silence Facts,” is a timely reminder that even though journalism is faced with many threats, its mission never been more important. The campaign kicked off two weeks ago with an open letter to members from Shelley, in which he criticized President Donald Trump and others whose political rhetoric he said is “aimed at further dividing our country and inflaming hateful ideologies.”
Immediately after that letter was published online, traffic to RTDNA’s website and social channels spiked. “We’ve had a lot more visibility this year, and I think a lot of people that didn’t know a lot about us are starting to learn more about what we’re doing,” Hansen says.
While it’s still too early to rate the success of this year’s fall membership drive, Shelley says RTDNA has seen membership grow two years in a row. Plus, there are a few early indications that this year’s campaign—including incentives like a 25 percent dues discount—are working.
For instance, RTDNA’s member category for the general public, labeled “friends of press freedom,” has seen a significant spike in applications this year.
“We’ve absolutely seen more of these supporters either joining or donating to our foundation,” Hansen says. “What we’re really starting to see is that as journalism is challenged more and more by some of our political leaders, so many people are stepping up to support and join us.”