Deaths of Shadid, Colvin, Ochlik highlight the risk-reward calculation of war reporting

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The news industry must figure out how to take better care of its journalists, said Ed Shadid at a memorial service for his cousin, New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid. That includes making sure they have proper medical equipment; Shadid died of an apparent asthma attack brought on by horses as he was reporting in Syria.

I would ask that they consider that the danger for journalists like Anthony and others like him is that their commitment and their history of bravery could be exploited by editors and management who are under their own pressures to meet production goals and achieve awards.

BBC News’ Fran Unsworth, meanwhile, explained why the news outlet has two reporters in Homs:

This weekend, the Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy, injured in the attack which killed Marie Colvin, paid tribute to her by describing her as one of the “greatest observers” of her time.

This seems to me to sum up why it is important that news organisations that are trusted by the public and do not have a political agenda should continue to try to put their reporters on the ground. …

[BBC correspondent Paul Wood and cameraman Fred Scott] have filed horrendous reports of people fleeing from terrible atrocities. They do need to be verified, but if true, journalists are playing a vital role in ensuring we know what is going on there.

But veteran foreign correspondent Robert Fisk expresses misgivings about that work, arguing that Western war correspondents become heroes while locals become invisible.

I could only reflect this week … how well we got to know the name of the indomitable and wounded British photographer Paul Conroy, and yet how little we know about the 13 Syrian volunteers who were apparently killed by snipers and shellfire while rescuing him. No fault of Conroy, of course. But I wonder if we know the names of these martyrs – or whether we intend to discover their names? …

The flak jacket has now become the symbol of almost every television reporter at war. I’ve nothing against flak jackets. I wore one in Bosnia. But I’ve been increasingly discomfited by all these reporters in their blue space-suits, standing among and interviewing the victims of war, who have no such protection. I know that insurers insist correspondents and crews wear this stuff. But on the streets, a different impression emerges: that the lives of Western reporters are somehow more precious, more deserving, more inherently valuable than those of the “foreign” civilians who suffer around them.

If you have time to read just one post, make it Fisk’s.

Related: Edith Bouvier describes her escape from Syria; Nicolas Sarkozy says the process to get her and photographer William Daniels out was “extremely complicated (Reuters, The New York Times) | Tyler Hicks recounts what happened on Shadid’s final reporting trip (The New York Times) | Bodies of Marie Colvin, Remi Ochlik arrive in Paris (Huffington Post UK) || Earlier: What news organizations owe the fixers they rely on, leave behind in foreign countries (Poynter)

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  • kenneth freed

    I am not a constant fan of Fisk’s reporting, but his post about the behavior and risks of foreign correspondents is worthy of admiration, particularly for the nonjudgmental approach.  During the better part of 20 years “exposing” myself to insurrections, civil wars, U.S. invasions, riots massacres, etc., I too felt the uncertainty and even guilt of knowing that I almost always had a way out closed to the local people.  I knew I would have the support of my government as well as my employer even as I pretended to be an independent actor.

    Along with Fisk, I have been increasingly troubled by the “blow in, blow hard and blow out” nature of much of today’s reporting from the world’s danger area, although I think it was probably ever thus; we just never had the exposure and notoriety of today’s version.

    Still, while Fisk is right in asking why no one outside remembers, or ever knew, the names of the thousands of victims of the horrors we witnessed, I think we still must recall and memorialize our colleagues who risked themselves in an effort to make the rest of the world aware, even for a moment, of what was happening.  As Fisk knows, Joe Alex Morris and the dozens of reporters killed in more recent years, were not grandstanding or seeking fame.  They were just doing their jobs.

  • Anonymous

    Fisk’s piece was by far the best, yes. I have always felt that outside reporters should stay home. What a waste. We lost Michael Kelly in wasteed useless death embedded in Iraq, a great guy and a great newsman, dead now for no useful reason and same with these others.Stay out of these evil sick places, even when the war is over the XXX SPRING (sic) is over, dicattors will remain and your death will be to no use or sense. Let the dead bury the dead. A total waste of human life for outside foreigners to venture into these wars zones. Sad. RIP all.