Monday, March 5, 2012

Why war correspondents live in more dangerous times

Robert Capa's last photo before being killed in 1956

I was listening to an interview on some such channel following the sad death of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik and it struck me that wars aren't necessarily getting any more dangerous (likely with more high tech weaponry, the opposite is true) but maybe being a war correspondent is, and, as with many things, technology is to blame.

The general rule for war correspondents is (and I'm likely paraphrasing) to 'never be out of touch'.  Back in the days of Robert Capa, technology added up to a Leica M6 and an army field radio, so being 'in-touch' really meant being in a platoon with soldiers and other people.

Fast forward to today. Being 'in-touch' means having a satellite or cell phone or a laptop or an iPad. Any of these things, puts you immediately in touch with your editor or head office from pretty much anywhere on the planet. As such, gone is the need to be embedded with an army or a fighting force - and with it the protection it provides. These days, a war correspondent can go it alone, with no net and no back-up.

The sense I got from listening to the people who knew Marie Colvin was that she wasn't crazy, she didn't have any kind of death wish, nor was she trying to live out some kind of hung ho "I'm a war reporter" image. She was careful, pragmatic and serious. And yet, there she was in a building in Homs, with no backup, support or safety net. Fifteen years ago, she would not have been there; her editor would not have allowed it because, without mobile technology, there would have been no way to report!

Today, it's different, and she paid the ultimate price because it is. I'm not sure how interesting this post is to people, but it just struck me all of a sudden how technology has changed this niche career so much for good and for bad.

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