War reporting

Freelance reporters in war zones can earn crappy pay

NBC News | The Daily Beast

Major media organizations may not pay freelancers in war zones very well, Martha C. White reports: “Per story can range anywhere from 50 bucks to several hundred,” a freelancer named Steven Dorsey tells her.

“I get paid more to do a PR job in the U.K. than to go somewhere like Gaza,” photojournalist Alison Baskerville tells White. “In Gaza, I’d be lucky to get 300 pounds [$483 U.S.] a day, maybe less. It’s a daily rate.”

Freelancers often have to provide their own body armor and other protective devices, and some news orgs don’t provide health insurance. “I remember trying to get affordable insurance through international reporting organizations — and couldn’t, because I was an American. It would only cover you if you were Canadian or European,” Dorsey tells White.

Ben Taub wrote on Sept. 2 about how a fixer employed by murdered American freelance journalist Steven Sotloff may have had his identity compromised by a Canadian photographer. That photographer, who he calls Alex, kicked off a planned self-assignment in Syria by informing other fixers via email that he planned to use the services of a fixer Taub calls “X” instead.

The Canadian left Syria after receiving a tip that some people knew he’d be traveling with X. Sotloff later used the same fixer; they were kidnapped together.

By that point, I had left Kilis and was pleading with the Canadian photographer to share the list of Syrian strangers he allegedly contacted while trying to make his own arrangements to visit Aleppo, as well as his communications with them. Perhaps X and the people working on Sotloff’s abduction case could identify the ISIS informant from those conversations.

But suddenly Alex grew reluctant to talk. His final message before blocking me on Facebook in late August last year read: “I don’t have time for that, stop bothering me, I have nothing interesting for you anyway.”

Read more

Forecast: Digital ad revenue to jump 17% this year, magazine ad revenue to fall 11%

mediawiremorningWednesday already? Here we go.

  1. Digital ad revenue to pass TV in 2017: According to Magna Global forecasts, “television revenues are expected to grow 2.2% this year,” Nathalie Tadena writes. “Newspaper and magazine ad revenue are expected to decline 8.9% and 11% respectively, while digital ad revenues are expected to jump 17% this year to $50 billion.” (The Wall Street Journal) | “The research firm declared digital ad revenue will hit $72 billion by 2017, pulling slightly ahead of television at $70.5 billion.” (The Wrap)
  2. The perils of freelance war reporting: GlobalPost went “above and beyond” in working for James Foley’s release before he was killed by Islamic State militants, according to Medill’s Ellen Shearer. “But other freelancers may not get that kind of backing or have access to the infrastructure that a staff journalist would, she said.” (AP via NYT) | Freelance journalist Austin Tice, who has been missing for two years, is believed to be held by the Syrian government, Lara Jakes reports. (AP) | Previously: Tice “disappeared on Aug. 14, 2012, while reporting on Syria for The Washington Post and McClatchy, among other outlets.” (Poynter) | Related: Peter Theo Curtis, who was freed in Syria by extremist group al-Nusra Front on Sunday, has returned home to Boston and reunited with his mother. (AP)
  3. Online “spiral of silence”: In a Pew study, researchers found that 86 percent of U.S. adults were willing to talk about surveillance issues in-person, while just 42 percent of Twitter and Facebook users were willing to post about them on those social networks. “Overall, the findings indicate that in the Snowden case, social media did not provide new forums for those who might otherwise remain silent to express their opinions and debate issues.” (Pew Research Center) | Another interpretation, from Chris Ip: “A hesitancy to share online could actually be a valuable restraint for someone who would otherwise have shot an unthinking opinion into the digital ether, safe in the knowledge their network of followers would agree with their views.” (Columbia Journalism Review)
  4. “You could teach a whole course on Ferguson”: “We’ve seen it in other cities,” Amber Hinsley, assistant professor at St. Louis University, tells Kristen Hare. “But for St. Louis, this is really our first big story that broke on Twitter. You saw it unfold on Twitter.” (Poynter)
  5. Did you know: The domain .TV is owned by Tuvalu, a South Pacific nation, and it’s becoming a big deal for branding as sites look to capitalize on appetite for online video, Noam Cohen reports. (The New York Times)
  6. New Quartz homepage aimed at loyal visitors: It’s modeled after the site’s newsletter, Zach Seward tells Joseph Lichterman: “It’s so new, and there aren’t enough analogous products out there to really tell if we should be expecting people to just be twitchy and checking it all the time, or if they have one time in their day when they check it and it’s just that once a day.” (Nieman Lab)
  7. Nationwide Time Warner Cable outage: The Internet was down between 4:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. during “routine network maintenance,” Brian Stelter reports. Many of the homes served by TWC are in Los Angeles and New York: “That made Wednesday’s outage more noticeable, because it affected journalists and the people who employ them.” Good point. (CNN)
  8. Bigger iPad on the way? iPhones are getting bigger this year, and soon there will be a 12.9-inch version of the iPad, too. Sales of the tablet have fallen for two straight quarters. (Bloomberg) | It sounds awkward and way too big for a tablet, but Steve Kovach writes it could be a “dream device” by basically being a less “clunky and confusing” Surface Pro 3. (Business Insider) | Related: Walt Mossberg still loves tablets. (Re/code)
  9. Newspaper front page of the day: The Virginian-Pilot, selected by Kristen Hare. (Newseum)
  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin: Mignon Fogarty is now the Donald W. Reynolds Chair in Media Entrepreneurship at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network. (Poynter) | Tom Cibrowski is now senior vice president of news programs, newsgathering and special events at ABC News. He was a senior executive producer at “Good Morning America.” (ABC News) | Michael Corn will be senior executive producer at “Good Morning America.” Previously, he was executive producer of “World News.” Almin Karamehmedovic will be executive producer at “World News.” Previously, he was executive producer at “Nightline.” (ABC News) | Kylie Dixon is now co-anchor for “2une In” at WBRZ in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Previously, she was an anchor at KXII in Sherman, Texas. (businessreport.com) | Les Vann is now general manager of WISH in Indianapolis. Previously, he was general manager of WJCL in Savannah, Georgia. Steve Doerr will be acting general manager for WJCL. Previously, he was northeast region vice president for Smith Media. (Lin Media) | Job of the Day: The Associated Press is looking for a news editor in Nashville, Tennessee. Get your résumés in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves: bmullin@poynter.org

Suggestions? Criticisms? Would you like this roundup each morning? This week, please email me: skirkland@poynter.org. You can reach your regular roundup guy at: abeaujon@poynter.org

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AP journalist and translator killed in Gaza

Simone Camilli in Beit Lahiya on Monday. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Simone Camilli in Beit Lahiya on Monday. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

mediawiremorningGood morning. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. AP journalist and translator killed, photographer injured in Gaza: Simone Camilli and translator Ali Shehda Abu Afash “died Wednesday when Gaza police engineers were neutralizing unexploded ordnance in the Gaza town of Beit Lahiya left over from fighting between Israel and Islamic militants.” AP photographer Hatem Moussa was seriously injured in the explosion. (AP) | Moussa got AP’s “Beat of the Week” nod last month. (APME)
  2. Is there a second Snowden? James Bamford writes that he got “unrestricted access to [Edward Snowden's] cache of documents in various locations. And going through this archive using a sophisticated digital search tool, I could not find some of the documents that have made their way into public view, leading me to conclude that there must be a second leaker somewhere.” (Wired) | Related: What it’s like to do a photoshoot with Snowden. (Wired)
  3. Gawker covers BuzzFeed: BuzzFeed has removed nearly 5,000 old posts, some of which “clearly veered into plagiarism territory,” J.K. Trotter writes. (Gawker) | Yowch: “BuzzFeed divorces its first wife.” (@pbump) | Kelly McBride: “Taking articles down is a rare phenomenon among trustworthy institutions, and it should be executed in the full light of day.” (Poynter)
  4. BuzzFeed covers Gawker: In response to staff complaints about violent porn posted in comments, Gawker Media banned images from its Kinja platform. Kinja, Myles Tanzer reports, “is still mystifying employees and creating tensions between the company’s editorial staff and top executives.” (BuzzFeed) | Jezebel EIC Jessica Coen calls the image-banning move an insufficient “temporary band-aid.” (Poynter) | Nicholas Jackson suggests Gawker Media should “Shut down Kinja completely.” (It’s important to note here that Kinja is also Gawker Media’s CMS.) Comments, he writes, “just don’t belong at the end of or alongside posts … They belong on personal blogs, or on Twitter or Tumblr or Reddit, where individuals build a full, searchable body of work and can be judged accordingly.” (Pacific Standard)
  5. Alt-weeklies benefit from Advance’s changes: Publishers of Willamette Week, Lagniappe and Syracuse New Times have staffed up and seen growth in the wake of changes at daily papers in their cities. (AAN) | Related: Readership, alliances up at other New Orleans news outlets in last year (Poynter)
  6. MoJo’s Facebook mojo: Mother Jones engagement editor Ben Dreyfuss decided to “double down on Facebook,” Caroline O’Donovan writes, and has seen notable returns. “From what we hear, Facebook is privileging certain kinds of content-rich sites,” MoJo publisher Steve Katz says. (Nieman) | Related: “While many people now find their news on Facebook, it’s easy to forget that very recently they found it on Google, and will surely find it somewhere else in the not-too-distant future.” (NYT) | Also related: Facebook has seen many more publishers embed its posts since it launched FB Newswire. (Poynter)
  7. More BS television: Bill Simmons plans to launch “The Grantland Basketball Show” on ESPN. (The Big Lead)
  8. Journalists injured in Iraq: New York Times reporter Alissa J. Rubin, Adam Ferguson, a photographer freelancing for the Times, and Moises Saman, who was on assignment for Time, were injured in a helicopter crash in northern Iraq Tuesday. The pilot was killed. (NYT) | Saman’s pictures from the crash. (Time)
  9. Jobs still available in journalism: Dale Eisinger says he worked for “the New York office of a conservative media company based in the South,” where his charge was “to trawl Twitter, and the rest of the internet, for conspiracy and evidence of liberal malice. Then, to repackage these stories or posts or memes for the target demo.” (The Awl)
  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin: Adam Serwer will be national editor at BuzzFeed. Currently, he’s a reporter at MSNBC (Poynter) | Edith Zimmerman has been named senior staff writer for Matt Taibbi’s as yet unnamed magazine. She founded The Hairpin. Laura Dawn, former creative and cultural director for moveon.org, will be the magazine’s executive director of multimedia. (Poynter) | Dominic Rushe, Alex Needham and Oliver Laughland will each take different jobs at Guardian U.S. Rushe, a business correspondent, will be East Coast technology editor for Guardian U.S. Needham, formerly a culture editor for theguardian.com, will be arts editor for Guardian U.S. Laughland will join Guardian U.S. as a senior reporter. He’s currently a reporter for Guardian Australia. (The Guardian) | Jeanne Cummings will be head of operations for Bloomberg’s forthcoming politics vertical. Previously, she was a deputy editor at Bloomberg News. (Politico) | The Denver Post is looking for a features writer to cover food and lifestyle. Get your résumés in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves: bmullin@poynter.org.

Suggestions? Criticisms? Would like me to send you this roundup each morning? Please email me: abeaujon@poynter.org. Read more

Vietnam Napalm 1972

Nick Ut’s ‘napalm girl’ photo was published 42 years ago

People | PetaPixel

Associated Press photographer Nick Ut took a photo of children running from a botched napalm attack on June 8, 1972. “I thought she was going to die,” he tells Nate Jones about Kim Phuc, the naked girl in the center of the photo.

Ut’s famous photo shows children, including Kim Phuc, center, running down a highway after a South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped napalm on civilians. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Ut got Kim Phuc and other children admitted to a hospital using his media pass, Jones writes. Phuc “was very upset about the picture,” the photographer said. Eventually her fame “paid off,” Jones writes: “The government allowed her to go to school in Cuba, where she fell in love with another Vietnamese student. In 1992, coming back from their honeymoon, the newly married couple sought asylum in Canada. Today Phuc is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador living in Ontario with her husband and their two sons.” She and Ut, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the photo, remain in touch.

Ut told Michael Zhang in PetaPixel about filing the photo on the occasion of its 40th anniversary: Read more

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‘Hornet’s Nest’: Memorial Day war movie by father and son journalists opens

The trailer for Mike and Carlos Boettcher’s new movie “The Hornet’s Nest” that opens in theaters nationwide today says right up front the film is “Not based on a true story.” Then a second message appears on the screen, “This is the true story.”

“The Hornet’s Nest” is a movie with no actors. The shooting, the fear, the loneliness, the bleeding, the dying is all real. “The Hornet’s Nest” is the product of two journalists, a father and a son who risked their lives and spent their own money to tell the stories of soldiers and Marines and their families involved in America’s longest wars.

Mike Boettcher is one of network television’s most experienced war correspondents. In 1985, he was kidnapped and threatened with execution in El Salvador. He survived a roadside bombing in Baghdad. He covered the U.S. Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon and the fighting in Kosovo. He has reported for NBC, CNN and ABC.

Boettcher was in Afghanistan in 2002 when the Taliban fell. He moved with American soldiers to Iraq and, for the last decade, he has been recording the story of the troops in the field. Boettcher says no correspondent has spent more time in Afghanistan. Over a six-year span, he devoted a total of two and a half years on the battlefields.

In 2008, I bumped into Mike at a journalism convention at Las Vegas. As we were catching up, he surprised me with the news that he was leaving NBC News. He told me he was heading to Iraq and then Afghanistan and he intended to stay there 15 months.

He planned to assign himself to witness and document the unfolding wars and he would pay the expenses out of his own pocket. He cashed in his 401(k). He had no network promising to air his work. There certainly was no Hollywood film company asking him to shoot a movie about the awful reality of war.

He had another surprise. He said he intended to bring his son Carlos with him. Carlos was surprised, too.

Mike Boettcher, left, and his son, Carlos Boettcher, embedding with the 101st Airborne in Afghanistan. (Chaplain Justin Roberts)

“It was at the height of violence in Iraq,” Carlos told me. “He said he had done this kind of work, covering wars his whole life. And I said I would miss him. He said ‘Carlos, do you want to join me?’”

“He and I had a strained relationship,” Mike said. “The job took me away from him for years. I saw this as an opportunity to reconnect with my son.”

Carlos Boettcher was not a journalist. He was finishing a college degree studying counter terrorism and the drug war. He grew up in a household where his father covered wars and his mother, Chris Chavez, was a CBS producer.

“’Pop, I want to go with you,’” Carlos said. “I loved shooting cameras and so I thought maybe I could be a cameraman for my father.”

For the next decade, the father-and-son team would embed in war zones, occasionally filing stories for ABC News and for a self-financed and short-lived website.

“All of my background in journalism was the crash course I had with my father the first year in Baghdad. He taught me the basics of writing scripts; we would go over the scripts as we filed for ABC World News. I felt like I was learning things at a 10 times faster pace while being under gunfire, and I had the best teacher.”

Soldiers of the 101st Airborne, 327th Infantry, in action during the dangerous Operation Strong Eagle III operation in 2011. (Mike Boettcher photo)

The Boettchers were always on the move embedding with every brigade of the 101st Airborne Division. As part of the 2011 troop “surge,” the 101st’s “No Slack” battalion (327th Infantry) was deployed to the Afghanistan and Pakistan border. The goal was to take out a key al-Qaida target, a warlord, in a 24- to 48-hour battle. “The Hornet’s Nest” shows how “Operation Strong Eagle III” stretched into nine bloody days of fighting. Six Americans died in that battle. The movie shows how rescue helicopters try time and again to airlift the injured but can’t because of the intense fighting. One chopper trying to make the rescue is itself shot down and crashes.

Mike and Carlos Boettcher risked their lives to tell the story that soldiers seldom tell anyone else but other soldiers.

“I’ve done my best to look through the smoke of war to illuminate the causes and cover the experiences of the men and women sent to fight and win,” Mike said. “While they fight and die thousands of miles away, we sit comfortably at home and sacrifice nothing. That’s why I had to be there, to capture their stories and be sure we all understand what they are enduring.”

“This is not a flag-waving story,” Mike said. “Part of the thing we had to do when we embed with a unit, is explain that we will tell the stories we see truthfully. And when you live with people under the conditions we did, you get to know these soldiers, you become friends with them. Sometimes, your life depends on them.”

“When you embed with a new outfit,” Carlos said, “it is like being the new kid in class every time. They don’t know you, they are suspicious of you. One of the biggest things, honestly, in gaining the trust of the soldier is surviving a gunfight with them. Once they see how you handle yourself, they give you some respect and that is when the stories begin.”

There were times, in the middle of firefights, when Mike didn’t know if his own son was dead or alive. “I remember saying to myself: ‘You selfish son of a bitch. Did you get your son killed?’”

Carlos said he learned to trust his father’s survival skills. “My father and I have been on other sides of the hills — RPGs, AKs going off. I didn’t know if he was alive or dead but I had faith he was — he has survived so much in his life. He is probably going to slip on a banana peel at age 75. That’s the way he will go.”

The 101st Airborne soldiers who have screened the film say it tells their raw story in ways they cannot. Colonel J.B. Vowell, the commander of the “No Slack” battalion featured in “The Hornet’s Nest” told the Ft. Campbell Courier, “This film is very real, and it represents the efforts, the honor, the trust and the bond of brotherhood that you have for each other.” And Vowell said, “If you had friends or relatives that [have deployed], you will gain an immediate, visceral appreciation for what they did.”

“American politicians say we are a country at war. But really, the nation is not at war. The Army, the Marines, the Navy and Airmen are at war,” Mike told me. He said it is important for the public to see the scene in “The Hornet’s Nest” where a 600-pound roadside bomb explodes, killing children. American soldiers rush to the aid of the injured as they have done time after time when there were no cameras rolling on them.

Capturing the story

The Boettcher team used mainly “pro-consumer” JVC 100 HD cameras to capture the stories. The gear needed to be rugged enough to survive the tour, but it had to be light enough to pack and not so valuable that it would become a target. Read more

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Vice devotes entire issue to South Sudan

Vice cover image by Tim Freccia

Editors at Vice didn’t plan on giving an entire issue to one story about South Sudan. But then that story, photographs and video came in.

“And it was so good,” said Annette Lamothe-Ramos, Vice’s creative director, in a phone interview with Poynter. “And we realized we needed an entire issue for this.”

“Saving South Sudan” came out in late April in print and went online Monday. In more than 100 pages it tells the story of writer Robert Young Pelton and photographer and filmmaker Tim Freccia’s trip into South Sudan. Pelton, author of the book “The World’s Most Dangerous Places,” has worked for National Geographic and CNN, among many others. For Vice, he weaves his story between narrative and history.

It started as a simple idea: visit the world’s newest country with Machot Lat Thiep, a gangly 32-year-old Sudanese former Lost Boy who wants to help his nation, a homeland that is less than three years old and already in danger of becoming a failed state. Machot thinks he can make the situation better, even if it isn’t apparent that he knows how. What better way to understand the vagaries of saving Africa than with an African who wants to save Africa?

The “Lost Boys” are children displaced during the country’s second civil war. Thiep now lives in Seattle and manages a Costco; Pelton writes he convinced his boss to give him a month off, unpaid, and “provided some funds for his family to live on while we would be gone.” Together, the three leave in search of Riek Machar, the deposed vice president and rebel leader.

By mid-December of last year, though, internal tensions erupted again and Machar, the former vice president, escaped into the bush. In January, Pelton pitched the idea to Vice Editor-in-Chief Rocco Castoro, “and he got it instantly,” Pelton told Poynter in a phone interview.

This is the first time Vice has devoted a single issue to a single story, but it’s something Castoro has wanted to do for awhile.

“Obviously, the story had to be the right story,” Castoro said in a phone interview with Poynter.

It’s also a story that’s pretty complicated. To help readers understand what’s happened in the region in the past, and how that relates to where things are now, Vice spends several pages illustrating that history with a timeline, “How South Sudan Got Lost.”

The font used throughout the issue was also created especially for the issue, meant to look like hand-painted road signs in South Sudan, but also like dried blood. The design of the magazine and the images used had to work with the story, Lamothe-Ramos said, to be evocative without going too far.

“Human suffering is never entertaining,” Castoro said, but the stories we tell do have to be compelling if people are going to read them, he said.

“It’s our job to distill it in a way that it almost tricks people into being interested,” Castoro said.

And for all the photo spreads and white space in the magazine’s pages, another story gets told through the documentary.

“We saved all the really intense stuff for the documentary,” Lamothe-Ramos said. “The magazine is really just a kind of warmup.”

That documentary, shot by Freccia, is told in three parts and will premiere on Vice’s site Monday.


The full issue, the documentary and the Web presence of “Saving South Sudan” isn’t all, though. In the future, Castoro said, Vice plans to continue reporting on South Sudan. The story, images, timeline and documentary offer context not just on something that happened, but on something that’s happening. On May 9, Machar met with South Sudan’s president for the first time since violence began last December, BBC reported.

And while he did get a full issue, “Saving South Sudan” isn’t as long as what Pelton’s used to writing. But he hopes it will be enough to show people what’s happened there, what’s happening now, and why. And not just through his eyes, but through the eyes of a young man who lived some of it, left and returned. Together in the magazine, the documentary and online, all three men search for a way into the bush to find a deposed leader turned rebel again.

“There’s no sense of war correspondent,” Pelton said. “It’s me just walking around, talking to people. You get this really uneasy sense that something really horrible is going on.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story failed to note that when Riek Machar fled, he was already the former vice president. He was fired from that position in July 2013. Read more


Time correspondent Simon Shuster tells the story of his abduction near Konstantinovka, in Ukraine, recently. He was stopped at a checkpoint where a man “pulled me from the car and cracked me on the head with the butt of his pistol.”

About half of his buddies got nervous, even sympathetic, when they saw the blood running down my face, and a few even ran to bring me some tissues. Maybe these were meant to be the peaceful citizens struggling for their rights. For a while, they bickered about what to do with me before calling their commander, a lanky man in camouflage named Vanya, who soon drove up with a long-barrel shotgun and a bandolier of red shells across his chest. “You’re screwed now,” one of his men whispered at me.

But on the ride back to his headquarters in the town of Kramatorsk, inside the occupied city hall, Vanya apologized for the beating. “We’re at war here,” he offered as an explanation. “We’re in a military situation.”

Simon Shuster, Time

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New award named for AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus

The International Women’s Media Foundation Tuesday announced a new award named in honor of the late Anja Niedringhaus, who died Friday, April 4, while working in Afghanistan.

The Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award will honor women photojournalists who “set themselves apart by their extraordinary bravery.”

Created with a $1 million endowment gift from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the Award will be given annually to a woman photojournalist whose work follows in the footsteps of Anja Niedringhaus.

Niedringhaus who won the IWMF Courage in Journalism Award in 2005, spent her life documenting wars and the effects of conflict on people in war-torn regions. “I could have stayed out of trouble most of my life but always have been drawn to the people who suffer in difficult situations,” she told the audience at the 2005 Courage Awards ceremony.

On Saturday, the Associated Press honored Niedringhaus’ life and work at her funeral in Germany. Read more

Afghan guards of honor carry wreaths with photographs of Agence France-Press journalist Sardar Ahmad, his wife Humaira and their children Nilofar and Omar during their funeral ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, March 23, 2014. Sardar and his family were killed when four gunmen attacked the Serena hotel in Kabul during New Year's celebrations on March 20, 214. Nine people, including four foreigners were killed during the attack. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Afghanistan journalists attempt a boycott after death of reporter

On Thursday, March 20, at a celebration of the Persian New Year in Kabul’s posh Serena Hotel, four young men attacked partygoers with small handguns they had smuggled through security, murdering nine civilians before they were killed by security forces.

Among the first to fall was Sardar Ahmad, a veteran journalist with Agence France-Presse, who was killed along with his wife and two of their three children. For Afghan journalists, the attack – one of several claimed by the Taliban in the past few weeks as the country prepared for its presidential election – was too much to bear.

Tributes appeared on the websites of media outlets around the globe, and hundreds braved a downpour to attend his funeral. The day after the attack, a group calling itself “the gathering of Afghan journalists” issued a statement announcing its intention to boycott the Taliban for fifteen days. Although the initial statement did not list participating journalists and organizations, few domestic media outlets have run any quotes from Taliban spokespersons in the past two weeks.

According to Khpolwak Safi, the head of the Independent Journalists’ Union of Afghanistan, the boycott’s low profile is intentional; rather than report suicide bombings with screaming headlines, he said, journalists have agreed not to speculate about Taliban attacks and “not to put those kind[s] of stories on the top of any news bulletin.”

Even such a limited boycott makes journalists uneasy, however. While many of Afghanistan’s most prominent journalists are participating, several U.S. news organizations announced that they would continue to conduct interviews with Taliban spokespeople and publish the group’s statements.

Given its short duration and limited application, the coverage boycott isn’t likely to be effective in curbing Taliban attacks on journalists. By all accounts, the Taliban’s media operation is aggressive in getting its views out, and putting limits on sourcing can do the public a disservice by failing to provide all sides. Still, the boycott does provide a rare look into the contentious relationship between modern war reporters and their sources, for whom the story can be another battleground.

For Waheed Massoud, the BBC’s Kabul chief, the boycott is the only weapon Afghan journalists have in their arsenal, and it’s not a very effective one.

“I don’t think this boycott, in the bigger picture, will be effective in getting Taliban to change their tactics,” according to Massoud, who is currently in the United States. But he said by phone he would have taken part in the boycott if he were in Afghanistan because there’s no other way of getting a point across to the Taliban.

Safi said the boycott was having some effect, with the Taliban calling on journalists to be impartial. During a similar boycott in 2007, Safi said in an email, Afghan journalists were politically divided and couldn’t agree on the boundaries of the boycott – should any suicide attack be presumed Taliban until proven otherwise?

That wasn’t all, though. According to a leaked State Department cable, the Taliban threatened to kill journalists who participated in the 2007 boycott. This time around, though, Safi said the Taliban has dialed back its aggressive stance.

A 15-day boycott doesn’t address larger issues that journalists face in dealing with the Taliban.

According to Vanessa Gezari, a visiting professor at Columbia University who reported from Afghanistan and trained journalists there, the Taliban is notoriously hard to cover. While the group releases a steady stream of announcements on attacks, bombings and body counts, its internal operations and power struggles are practically impossible to report on, leading some journalists to say the Taliban’s only clear objective is to generate press. Some, Gezari said, argue the group shouldn’t be covered at all.

“Journalists are not machines,” Gezari said. “Journalists are increasingly fed up with this violence, particularly against civilians, and they are looking for a way to respond.” Still, she said she wasn’t sure whether a coverage boycott was “realistic or sustainable.”

Foreign correspondents, for the most part, have not taken part in the boycott. Statements from the Taliban have been reported by The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal since the attack that took Ahmad’s life. The thought of shutting out one side of a conflict – for example, by declaring that its actions “can never be justified” as Afghan journalists did the night of Ahmad’s death – would strike many U.S. journalists as taking sides, even if it is directed at a group like the Taliban.

“The Wall Street Journal has made no changes to the way it is covering Afghanistan,” said WSJ reporter Habib Khan Totakhil in a Facebook statement, noting that his organization would continue to provide “full coverage” of the Taliban “in an unbiased and professional way.”

In a statement, AP spokesman Paul Colford said that even a recent attack on two AP reporters would not change the organization’s coverage, writing that the organization will “continue to provide a robust news report from Afghanistan.”

“It violates my sense that we have to hear from all sides, but in some way, that’s already been frustrated,” said Gezari.

Just how far journalists are willing to take their boycott remains an open question. While the Afghan journalists called initially on colleagues to refrain “from broadcasting any information that could further the Taliban’s claimed purpose of terror,” the boycott has been less strict in practice, said Safi, the head of the independent journalists’ group.

When Taliban fighters attacked the headquarters of Afghanistan’s election commission on March 29, journalists could not ignore it. That act of terrorism made headlines, even if reports didn’t include comment from the Taliban.

While journalists’ degree of commitment varies, almost all have agreed not to quote the Taliban, said Marai Shah, the AFP’s chief photographer in Afghanistan, in an email. The journalists’ statement “does not mean they are not going to cover the incidents,” he said. “If they do so, it would be ignoring the victims’ rights.”

Almost a month following the attack on the Serena Hotel, the Taliban’s responsibility is still a matter of debate: after initially denying the attack, the Taliban claimed responsibility for ”selectively” killing more than 20 people at the hotel, before issuing another statement that expressed regret at the deaths of women and children. Meanwhile, Afghan intelligence officials insist that the attack was really perpetrated by Pakistani agents.

Whatever the boycott achieves, the job of Afghan journalists will remain dangerous, and their names may one day end up in an article about the next mass murder.

“Sardar is not the first victim,” said Massoud, “and I don’t think he will be the last.”

Jack Newsham is a student and freelance journalist interested in media. He will spend the summer writing for The Boston Globe. He has reported for The Sacramento Bee, fact-checked for The American Prospect, and conducted research for George Akerlof and Robert Shiller. He can be reached at j.newsham@gmail.com and on Twitter @TheNewsHam.

Related: Afghanistan gets more dangerous as elections approach | AP photographer killed in Afghanistan Read more

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PoynterVision: War zone photographers a breed apart

Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus’ death in Afghanistan serves as another reminder of the deadly calling that war photography can be. Recently, Afghanistan has become a dangerous assignment “on par with the height of the Iraq war or the current situation in Syria,” said Bob Dietz, Asia program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Niedringhaus and her colleague, reporter Kathy Gannon, were shot by an Afghan police officer while they sat in a car that was part of a convoy monitoring the country’s elections. Niedringhaus died; Gannon was badly wounded, but reported Friday in stable condition.

Just last month, on March 11, Swedish journalist Nils Horner was shot at point-blank range while reporting in Kabul. Ten days later, four gunmen fired weapons in a Kabul hotel restaurant and killed Afghan journalist Sardar Ahmad.

“Where once reporters and photographers were seen as the impartial eyes and ears of crucial information, today they are often targets,” said Associated Press CEO Gary Pruitt.

Poynter’s Kenneth Irby, senior faculty for visual journalism, talked with Poynter’s Ren LaForme on Friday about the challenges for photographers covering violent conflict and the courage it requires to walk into situations from which they may not return.

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