Entries Tagged as 'reporting'

Not The Onion

David Frum August 1st, 2011 at 3:37 pm 24 Comments

This is the Washington Post’s emailed bulletin report on the budget debate:

Asked for single-word characterizations of the budget negotiations, the top words in the poll — conducted in the days before an apparent deal was struck — were “ridiculous,” “disgusting” and “stupid.” Overall, nearly three-quarters of Americans offered a negative word; just 2 percent had anything nice to say.

“Ridiculous” was the most frequently mentioned word among Democrats, Republicans and independents alike. It was also No. 1 in an April poll about the just-averted government shutdown. In the new poll, the top 27 words are negative ones, with “frustrating,” “poor,” “terrible,” “disappointing,“ “childish,” “messy” and “joke” rounding out the top 10.

Report at Your Own Risk

December 1st, 2009 at 12:08 pm Comments Off

The ordeal of Amanda Lindhout, shop the “freelance journalist” recently released after 15 months of kidnapped captivity in Somalia, sales underlines how journalism, cheap and/or dangers faced, have changed in recent times.

The question being asked about the 28-year-old Alberta woman, is whether she was a gutsy reporter or a naïve thrill-seeker. Likely she is both. A case can be made that both descriptions apply in varying degrees to all reporters who venture into dangerous areas.

Amanda’s case is different because, essentially, she had no back-up, no steady employer to go to bat for her should she run into trouble, no safety net, imprecise as safety nets are. And she was nuts to venture into Somalia.

These days no journalist is absolutely safe from being kidnapped or beheaded by captors. New York Times, CBC, AP, Wall Street Journal, and other influential media have not been a guarantee that their reporters won’t be kidnapped, harassed, or murdered.

It wasn’t always this way.

For some 15 years until around 1971, I went to various wars, revolutions, crises around the world for the Toronto Telegram, with no backup or support system, and never felt I might be kidnapped. In those days, freelance journalists with no employer (and often no employment) were common – and often a pain in the butt.

These freelancers tended to feed off journalists who were there for their newspapers or agencies. Freelancers seemed anxious to have their photographs taken on site to establish credentials that would entice small newspapers to publish their accounts.

Today, in some dangerous places, journalists have to hire fixers, drivers, even bodyguards – all of which require an employer willing to invest more money than independent newspapers want or can afford. The average freelancers can’t afford such an outlay.

Some stories are impossible to cover by freelancers.

The 1960s were more conducive to freelancers like Amanda Lindhout. In the Algerian civil war – France vs. Algerian French vs Algerian nationalists – independents could thrive. The danger was daily assassinations; a concern of journalists was being assassinated in error.

It was similar in the Congo after independence, when there was no government. Journalists of all stripes prowled and dug for facts, uneasy only about falling into the hands of the wrong tribal faction.

Vietnam was loaded with freelancers, some of whom could wheedle concessions from the U.S. military, and who could more or less safely risk venturing into the countryside. No support system was necessary.

When the marines landed in Beirut in 1958, independent journalists vied with agencies and flourished. Even in Baghdad when the king was assassinated and people were hanged from lampposts, chaos was such that journalists with no back-up or background could flourish with some safety.

I got into Angola when journalists were being expelled during one of the Portuguese crackdowns. After five days of poking around I was arrested, briefly jailed, and dispatched to Mozambique where I was then expelled to South Africa. But no physical or mental damage.

Covering the Biafran war, the world began to change. Like today, you had to choose sides. I was with the Biafrans when they briefly captured the town of Owerri. If Nigerians caught me, I’d have been shot as a mercenary.  A month later, I was at the same battle with Nigerian forces, and if caught by Biafrans I’d again have been killed as a mercenary.

In more recent times, one could write sensibly about the civil war in Angola by being sponsored by UNITA rebels of Jonas Savimbi, who would protect you. If caught by the ruling MPLA, you’d be shot. No freelancers.

Eritrea’s war against Ethiopia was similar – with EPLF forces you were protected, unless the Ethiopians caught you. You had a support system.

In Afghanistan today, as in the Iraq war, a journalist has some protection if embedded with the U.S. or Canadian military. Otherwise you depend on the Taliban or no one. Too dangerous for most.

Freelance writing is an honorable craft, but it’s now more realistic for books than for journalism. The lone writer can probe the Amazon, or the secrets of New Guinea, or mysteries of Vietnam, where kidnapping for ransom is rare. He/she is breaking trail.

But stay away from the predator places unless you have a plan, know what you are doing, have a back-up system, have lots of money, and have those who will raise hell to rescue should things go wrong.

Such places include Somalia, Pakistan, Iran, and any poor country at war against its government.

Why Watch Cable?

David Frum November 28th, 2009 at 9:46 am 12 Comments

As a sometime talking head on CNN, I’m arguing against interest here – but Friday was a day that fully drove home the uselessness of cable news.

All day long, cable breathlessly reported the Tiger Woods story, while managing totally to ignore what had actually occurred. It asked viewers to believe that a non-drunk Tiger Woods had taken his car for a 2 AM drive on the winding streets of a gated community – that he had crashed into a fire hydrant with enough impact not only to injure himself, but to entrap himself in the car – and that his wife, a woman who weighs less than 120 pounds, had used a golf club to smash open the car windshield and drag him to safety. Obviously untrue in every detail, right?

And yet this absurd cover story was repeated over and over again for hours. People who wanted to know what was really going on crashed the servers of the celebrity website TMZ, which had the real story.

But at least that story was unimportant.

Much worse was the coverage of the Dubai default.

Dubai, a hedge fund masquerading as an emirate, owes its creditors $80 billion. Even in these trillion-dollar days, that’s a lot of money. Now it cannot pay.

All day long, the cable networks trotted out “experts” to insist that this default was no big deal, a purely local matter. Not one of them seemed to consider: Hey what happens when Dubai’s creditors begin dumping properties all at the same time, in the midst of the worst commercial real estate slump in a generation or maybe two? What does it mean that the emirate’s landholdings inside Dubai – which helped to secure its huge borrowings – have tumbled to worthlessness? What if Dubai drags its main creditor, HSBC, down to ruin with it?

No, it was all pooh-poohing happy talk.

Only today, with the Thanksgiving holiday behind us, are the major media reporting the anxieties that have gripped market players for the past 72 hours and more.

So much for the 24-hour news cycle.

A Worthy Cause

August 31st, 2009 at 11:15 am 1 Comment

I don’t know if you are aware of Michael Yon.

Michael Yon

Michael Yon

He’s fearless… provides a candid, soldier’s-eye view… from the very unique perspective of being there with them for weeks and months at a time… delving deep into the human component.
-General David H. Petraeus
Commanding General
Multi-National Force, Iraq

Michael Yon is ex-SF, and he brings honor to the Regiment with his heroic work covering the wars going on out there, reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan since December 2004. Read his creds here:

No other reporter has spent as much time with combat troops in these two wars. Michael’s dispatches from the frontlines have earned him the reputation as the premier independent combat journalist of his generation. His work has been featured on “Good Morning America,” The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN, ABC, FOX, as well as hundreds of other major media outlets all around the world.

Michael Yon is the 2008 Weblog Awards Winner for Best Military Blog.

As early as February 2005, Michael described the violence in Iraq as a civil war. In 2006, he said we were losing in Afghanistan. In 2007, he was the first reporter to claim the success of “the Surge” in Iraq. When he first voiced these opinions, they were extremely controversial. Now they are conventional wisdom.

Now Michael needs your help. He obviously does what he does for little or no pay:

I cannot operate in the war without your support. If support does not substantially increase, I will be forced to abandon war reporting in September. There has seldom been much interest in the Afghanistan war. True interest has been starkly reflected in the support for this mission. Each journey into Afghanistan, since 2006, has bled out resources from my operations. Reporting from Afghanistan is not sustainable at this rate.

In his blog there is a fascinating story about helicopters in the war zone, specifically the static that lights up in the rotors (I’ve often observed this phenomena myself). Yon has coined it the Kopp-Etchells Effect, in memory of two KIA corporals; one American & one British.

Kopp-Etchells Effect

Kopp-Etchells Effect

Today is pay day – every G.I. out there is a millionaire. Go to Michael’s site and crack the code on the PayPal thing. I am going to lead by example on this thing and scratch out a check for $25; if every one of my regular readers contributes the same, this will equal six months pay for Michael.

Originally posted at STORMBRINGER.