It was a few minutes past noon last Saturday when journalist Dan Nephin got a call from the mayor of Lancaster. 

A drag queen story hour had been canceled that morning after K-9’s identified a suspicious box.

“I thought she was calling me to give me some comment saying whatever her thought was on the fact that the event had to be canceled,” said Nephin.

Instead, Nephin got pulled into the story.

His home address was listed in a bomb threat email.

“You know it was definitely scary. I had to call my partner and tell her ‘get out of the house’. And I also had to be a reporter at the same time,” said Nephin.

Reporters face numerous dangers on the job. From covering natural disasters to mass protests and increasing individual animosity. As threats evolve- and newsrooms eye 2024 elections as a potential for unrest- safety trainings can prevent harm.

“We're aiming to train as many journalists and newsrooms as possible about the holistic safety measures they can be taking,” said Nadine Hoffman, the deputy executive director of International Women’s Media Foundation.

The group hosted a safety training in Harrisburg this week, which over 20 reporters attended. 

Instructors covered everything from legal nuances in every day work to how law enforcement contain then disperse mass protests. There was also classes on risk assessment and digital security.

The database U.S. Press Freedom Tracker lays out 11 different threats reporters can face on the job. Some are not physically dangerous, like lawsuits. Others, like arrests, may take place peacefully or in potentially dangerous situations like protests. The tracker does not include dangers like natural disasters.

Assaults on reporters went from 42 in 2019 to 640 in 2020— most linked to Black Lives Matter protests and riots. And the first part of 2021 still saw increased assaults and arrests.

“We do think that 2020 was possibly a practice run for some of the things that we could see in this presidential election,” said Hoffman.

Brushes with the law, natural disasters, and disgruntled citizens have always been par for the course with a journalism career. Still, as trust in news media deteriorates and partisanship increases, personal attacks based on group stereotypes are more common.

"I was frustrated that people don't understand that we're not taking sides,” said Nephin, reflecting on getting a bomb threat. "We're just trying to do our jobs and get news out to the people."

A few reporters from the Lancaster area were able to come to the training on Wednesday, eager to learn after the safety threats in their own city.

"And then it was about getting important news out the door, you know?” said Nephin. “Somebody said there are bombs placed at people's houses in downtown. People rely on the media to get information. And we had to continue to try to do that."

As reporters balance evolving threats in a digital and partisan world, some keys to safety can lie in connecting with citizens.

“Read the news that's being produced to watch the news that's being produced locally,” Hoffman encouraged. "And hey, journalists are out in the community at public events all the time. If you're at a school board meeting or if you're in another public setting, you meet a journalist, maybe just have a conversation with them and you can learn more about the work that they do and why they feel so passionate about it.