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[liberationtech] Hancel: A new tool for journalists in Mexico and beyond

frank at frank at
Wed Feb 19 12:35:30 PST 2014

This looks like a great tool. Kudos to Sandra and OpenITP, Knight, Ela
Stapley and Diego Mendiburu for making it happen. If anyone here has any
thoughts about it please share. Thanks, Frank


Being a journalist in Mexico is dangerous. Reporters working in states
most affected by drug-related violence have seen their beat change
drastically since 2006, when former Mexican President Felipe Calderón
launched an offensive against organized crime. For many journalists,
local news now involves reporting on turf wars, missing people and mass
graves. The type of news being covered is riskier, and having adequate
security protocols has become all the more important.

As attacks against journalists have increased, with five journalists
confirmed as being killed in direct reprisal for their work in the last
three years, reporters began thinking up ways of keeping themselves
safer. A colleague, from a state in the north of Mexico, explained that
every time a reporter leaves the office to cover a story it is common
procedure to call a fellow journalist to let them know the route being
taken as well as arrival and departure times. Journalists covering the
crime beat in a state in the northeast of Mexico now move together to
and from events. They say there is greater safety in numbers.

Journalists traveling from Mexico City, which has largely been
unaffected by the violence, to report on news in other areas of the
country, also follow certain security procedures. Some reporters have a
check-in system, calling designated contacts at certain hours of the day
when out in the field, or they carry a GPS device, making it easier to
locate them. But sometimes they travel alone, advising just one or two
people. They think about the story, not about safety.

Each assignment throws up questions about security. What do I do if
there is a road block? Is the route I am taking safe? What is the best
way to alert friends and colleagues without drawing attention to myself?
In 2011, these were questions that I was asking myself while on
reporting trips. I started thinking that there must be an easier and
more efficient way to contact people when working in dangerous areas.

When I met fellow journalist Diego Mendiburu, we realized the part
technology could play. At the end of 2011, Mendiburu and I had the idea
for Hancel, an Android app that links journalists working in high-risk
areas to a preselected list of contacts and to NGOs dedicated to
defending freedom of expression.

The idea was simple, but building the app was not. We were two
journalists with no contacts in technology, no idea of how to run a
project, and even less an idea about funding. Two years on, Hancel is in
beta phase and being piloted in both Mexico and Colombia. The project
has the support of both local and international organizations, and in
March last year received funding from the Knight Foundation. But there
is still much work to be done.

Hancel has taught us a lot about what it means to be a journalist trying
to figure out the tech world. Over the coming months, I will be
outlining the experiences that we have had while building Hancel, from
where to find a programmer to explaining what a hack day is. We hope
that by talking about this, we will encourage other journalists not only
to start their own projects, but to also build long-lasting
relationships with the tech community.

Ela Stapley is a journalist based in Mexico. She is co-founder of
Hancel, a Smartphone app linking journalists working in high-risk areas
with a pre-selected list of contacts and NGOs dedicated to defending
freedom of speech. In 2013, Ela co-founded Factual_, an organization
that provides Latin American journalists with the tools needed to start
their own innovation projects. She has an MA in International Journalism
from Cardiff University. Contact her @elastapley or ela at

JournoSec is a column aimed at helping journalists better under the
security, privacy and anonymity challenges they currently face, and
steps they can take to protect themselves. Managed by OpenITP Outreach
Manager Sandra Ordonez, it brings together leading voices from the
community behind open-source technologies that circumvent censorship and
surveillance. For more information, follow @OpenITP. To become more
involved, contact sandraordonez AT OpenITP DOT org.

Frank Smyth
Executive Director
Global Journalist Security
frank at
Tel. + 1 202 244 0717
Cell + 1 202 352 1736
Twitter: @JournoSecurity
PGP Public Key 92861E6B

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