Conflict reporters play an important role in our understanding of the world, but it can be dangerous and difficult work.
I don't know the first thing about conflict reporting. The closest I've ever come was covering a clash between protesters and riot police in Cairo, which I found difficult and disorienting enough to know that it was not for me. My work takes place behind a computer monitor, underneath an air conditioning vent, and never more than 20 feet from a coffee maker.
- The Rory Peck Trust: The U.K. organization, "dedicated to the safety and welfare of freelance newsgatherers and their families around the world," offers "hostile environment training" for reporting from conflict zones. The training courses are highly regarded. The organization offers "bursaries" to journalists who need help paying for the training. They also offer "direct assistance" to freelancers and their families, including grants, help landing assignments, and "practical advice, information, and support for freelancers or their families in crisis."
- Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues (RISC): Started by Sebastian Junger in the memory of journalist Tim Hetherington, who was killed covering Libya's civil war last year, RISC offers classes in emergency medical treatment. Hetherington, like other journalists since him, died in part because he was wounded far from a hospital, and though the people around him tried their best to help, no one had the appropriate medical training to stop the bleeding, which might have saved his life. RISC training is designed to help reduce this risk. Courses are offered free of cost to experienced freelance conflict reporters.
- 3-Day Columbia Class, "Reporting Safely in Crisis Zones": This new class at Columbia's prestigious graduate school in journalism emphasizes "prevention of harm" and "how to avoid unnecessary peril, with careful preparations before, during, and after assignments." The New York class is expensive, at $695, but scholarships are available for freelancers. Judith Matloff, who has worked both as a freelance and staff reporter, teaches. The next class is October 19 to 21.
- Buy Insurance: One option is the Reporters Without Borders plan, which is designed with freelance reporters in mind. It is very cheap and covers emergency medical care. You may wish to consider kidnapping insurance.
- Get the Equipment: Wear a helmet and a kevlar jacket. Carry a medical kit. A reporter who asked to remain anonymous says that kevlar is particularly cheap in Israel. Do be careful about getting an Israeli stamp on your passport, as some Middle Eastern countries will not allow you admittance if you do.
- Know the Dangers: "The things you should know before going into any hot war zone like Syria include the types, uses, and effects of various weapons (will bullets go through walls? What do single shots mean, versus long bursts?); the names, goals, and organizational structures of the people who you're likely to meet; and a way to get out," Graeme Wood told me in an email.
- Keep Others Informed of Your Movements: Also from Graeme: "You should also have someone far away and someone close by both looking over your shoulder. If I'm going on a dangerous road, with chance of abduction or whatever, I'll tell someone I trust locally and someone I trust far away, and promise to check in within a couple hours of arrival. If I ever get abducted on an Iraqi road, people will be aware that something is amiss (and that I'll probably miss my next deadline) within a few hours."
- Have a Plan: Don't just dive into the front line for the sake of being at the front line. There's rarely much to be learned there. If you have a story to report that requires going somewhere dangerous and you're confident that the risk is acceptable, just go to the extent that it's necessary for your story, and then get out. Have your own dedicated transportion, both there and back, and make all the necessary arrangement ahead of time.
- Read More: This information is just a starting point. Reporters Without Borders has produced a much better informed, and more informative, practical guide for journalists. It's 100 pages and makes for good airplane reading.