Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is It Possible to Make Dangerous Reporting Safe?

By Hamilton Nolan

Is It Possible to Make Dangerous Reporting Safe?

Is It Possible to Make Dangerous Reporting Safe?Michael Kelly was killed in a Humvee accident in Iraq. Bob Woodruff was blown up by an I.E.D. Damn near every reporter covering the Egyptian revolution was assaulted one way or another, including Lara Logan, in the most awful possible way. Hundreds of reporters around the world are attacked every year on the job. Is that a necessity?

The Lara Logan story was shocking enough that this conversation is inevitable. First, we'll hear the questions of blame: Did CBS do enough to protect her? Did she do enough to protect herself? Who was responsible for her safety? Who's the culprit?

Reporting, in certain situations—wars, revolutions, assorted uprisings of all types—is an inherently dangerous business. To the extent that we mitigate that danger, we often mitigate the value of the reporting, as well. Embedding journalists with a battalion of Marines is safer for the journalists themselves than roaming free; it also severely limits the scope of their reporting, and tends to encourage a sort of Stockholm Syndrome that's not conducive to free and independent journalism. Likewise, covering a revolution from a hotel balcony, or covering the Iraq War exclusively from inside the Green Zone, means being willing to leave unknown such a large part of the story that your entire justification for being there is thrown into question.

So, intrepid reporters go out in the streets to cover the story, as they should. And it's dangerous out there. And sometimes reporters get hurt. Would a ring of bodyguards help? Maybe. But the more conspicuous they were the more they'd interfere with the reporting, and the less conspicuous they were the less effective they'd be. Besides that, maximizing safety would seem to involve just doing things that all competent media outlets already do: hiring good local fixers, listening to security consultants, etc.

So what's the bright idea that will keep a Lara Logan incident from happening again? It doesn't exist. We have no magic solution. All we have are a series of choices, trade-offs between safety and freedom of movement, between protecting the reporter and letting the reporter do his or her job to the fullest. Do we want to stop sending female reporters on dangerous assignments? No. Do we want to surround female reporters with ostentatious brigades of bodyguards? No.

News organizations do take the safety of their reporters seriously. The only ones to "blame" in the Lara Logan incident are the people who committed the crime. Reporters will keep reporting, and, sometimes, being attacked, or hurt, or even killed. I don't know what else to do, except for everyone to do their best. Do you?

[Photo: AP]

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