Reporting from conflict zones is not for the faint-hearted but it’s especially dangerous for those unattached to new organisations.
Leading international journalist Jess Hill discussed the challenges reporters face covering major international conflicts such as the war in Syria, at a recent Griffith University symposium.
Jess, who spent 12 months reporting from the Middle East in 2012, said the continuing trend towards unattached freelancers affected the quality of the coverage and the safety of reporters.
“When I talk about freelancers I mean both foreign freelancers as well as local citizen journalists, many of whom are activists themselves and mostly with the opposition,’’ she said.
“They provide news to agencies like the BBC, AP and Reuters for nothing, simply by posting to Facebook or YouTube, or in some cases, being paid as freelance journalists.”
She said fewer staff reporters were going into Syria than other wars because budgets for foreign correspondents had diminished over time and the insurance premiums and cost of security for journalists had escalated.
“Freelance foreign correspondents are still charging money for their work, but they cost less than staff reporters, so freelancers have become an attractive option for news organisations seeking coverage of Syria.”
By the end of 2013, many journalists had stopped reporting from inside Syria.
“The main reason is that dozens are being kidnapped at an unprecedented rate, far higher than the number of kidnappings in Beirut during the civil war in the 1980s.”
“Some newspapers and news organisations are not accepting work from freelancers – Syrians or foreigners anymore. One of them is The Sunday Times, the newspaper of Marie Colvin, who was killed in Syria in February 2012.
“There appears to be no solution to the problem but one thing is certain – there will always be wars and people (whether citizen journalists or staff reporters) willing to risk their lives to report from conflict areas.
“How news organisations manage the evolving nature of journalism remains to be seen.”
Jess Hill was Middle East correspondent for the Global Mail, based in Cairo and Beirut. In 2011 she was listed as one of the Top 100 ‘women to follow’ on Twitter and in 2013 was listed as one of the 30 most Influential Women Under 30 in Cosmopolitan. She is currently working as a reporter for the ABC’s Background Briefing program.