Learning Security

2. Demand for information-security coursework was matched by the time and effort committed by students.

Our initial planning for the semester at the Columbia Journalism School included three weekend workshops based on advising faculty’s assessment of student availability, as well as physical venues open at the school8attract interest in the program, we hosted an hour-long evening presentation early in the semester. Though optional, the presentation attracted a substantial audience and resulted in sixty-three workshop sign-ups. The bulk of these came from currently enrolled CJS students, but also included a handful of alumni, digital media support staff, and one computer science professor, who commented, “I realized I didn’t know or use those things either.”The major focus of the presentation was the following:

  • How journalists’ need for information security pre-dated Snowden and would only increase in the absence of substantial legal and policy changes in the United States and abroad9
  • How the vast majority of newsrooms were not providing their staff with information-security training and tailored support, even those most involved in the Snowden leaks.

  • How journalists planning to offer their sources any assurances of privacy, anonymity, or off-the-record communications needed to establish a robust information-security practice.

  • How legal protections (shield laws and reporters privilege) for journalists in the United States are weak and crumbling10 and any such protections are even worse globally11 Furthermore, legal measures would only be invoked where journalists’ information was not already attainable via legal third-party access mechanisms, documented surveillance practices, or technical exploits.

  • Most crucially, addressing the pervasive fallacy that only national security reporters need to care about information security. To do this, we described a range of real-world examples where journalists covering business, technology, sports, conflict, environment, local news, and a wide swath of international topics had all been targeted for surveillance and digital attacks by both state and non-state actors. Providing these salient and relatable examples was essential to generating sustained interest in the workshops, and a number of students who signed up during this initial presentation later said that these examples ultimately persuaded them to attend.

  • How the workshops could increase their value to prospective employers.

Ongoing promotion yielded a total of more than one hundred and ten individual sign-ups for the opportunity to join our workshops throughout the term. In addition to this, we trained the school’s five digital media associates (DMAs) and provided individualized assistance to various reporting projects, professors, and students focused on higher-risk investigative stories and contexts.