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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Friday, August 22, 2014

James Foley and the Rise of News Adventurism

The youtube execution of James Foley has revealed just how vile and repulsive his killers are.

The same could be said for how digital media now serves the purposes of these despicable excuses for human beings.

The ubiquity of visuals and the willingness of young journalists to employ them now makes for a range of reporting that can be quite overwhelming.

Some of the freelance materials are terrific and media organizations like Vice have produced some remarkable reporting. Vice's recent reporting on ISIS is strong, only because we know so little about this group. But Vice has been known to allow its journalists to engage in risky behaviour, both for its employees and more seriously, for the people they interview.

Vice did a series of reports from Aleppo in Syria in the midst of a Syrian Army bombardment. Gritty stuff. Vice identified anti-regime civilians without understanding how those interviews might put these people in danger.

Recently a group of so-called journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan reported on Facebook, that a number of women who had been kidnapped by ISIS had hidden cellphones under their abayas, so they could let family know where they were. No evidence was given that the women had done this. But the implications of what might now happen to these women are it the stupidity of posting that information online.

As for the media organizations that allow anyone who self-describes as a journalist to wander around war zones, this is also unconscionable.

Jim Foley was an experienced reporter who due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, got himself kidnapped and murdered.

Yet media organizations who encourage risk-taking are also complicit.

Global Post who hired Foley, may or may not have done enough to support him*. And other media organizations who hire ambitious young journalists, eager to make a name for themselves in this digitally crowded landscape, also need to figure out the best ways to hire and support journalists on dangerous assignments.

Even as the news from overseas this past summer has been relentlessly grim (two Malaysian Air jetliners gone, a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Gaza, Iraq, Syria...), the amount of reporting of international events is in decline.

Media organizations in a struggle to gain financial stability have been cutting foreign reporting for years. As they look for ways to strip out their budgets, eager young people rush to fill in behind repatriated correspondents from shuttered bureaus. Some of these would-be correspondents will find their niche inside established media once they prove their worth.

Others will not be so lucky and we will be seeing the unhappy results of their recklessness in the weeks and months ahead.  

* I am informed that Global Post does a significant job in supporting its reporters in the field.

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