By Maggie Padlewska
(HN, April 23, 2011) News-gathering technology is without doubt becoming more accessible, portable, and inconspicuous.
More and more journalists are trained and expected to file stories for multiple mediums (print, radio, television, and the web), once all considered independent of each other. Major networks are increasingly focused on cost-effectiveness, thus cutting back on resources and much of its “human” workforce. The obvious result: fewer people, doing more.
It is no surprise, therefore, that major networks are now toying with the idea of deploying a one-person "crew" to report from conflict zones. This was expected.
The question is: is it “too soon” or flat out “problematic”?
The risk factor involved reporting from a conflict zone is not new nor, sadly, one that is likely to diminish miraculously over time.
According to the figures collected by Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit organization that fights for the rights, freedom, and protection of journalists worldwide, 25 journalists were killed in 2002, 64 in 2005, 87 in 2007, and 18 since the beginning of the year.
So, should deep-pocketed networks deploy “Backpack Journalists” (BPJs) or 'Multi-Media Journalists' (MMJs) to report, single-handedly from conflict zones without any safeguards in place? No. Should BPJs avoid reporting from conflict zones? Not necessarily.
MMJs have been presented with a significant and unique set of opportunities: lightweight mobility, rapid field production (laptop editing and story filing via the Internet), and most importantly, as noted by Professor Stacey Woelfel during the National Association of Broadcaster panel discussion, a dramatic decrease with respect to the “intimidation factor” for interviewees. Thus, there is much to be gained from this independent form of reporting.
As for reaping the benefits? The key perhaps, is therefore, to strike the proper balance. There is strength (and safety!) in numbers – true.
Now apply that to independent MMJs gathering in a conflict zone…and what do we have? The best of both worlds perhaps…
Sadly, however, while “numbers” may increase the odds of safety (such as providing video journalists and photographers with additional sets of eyes to watching each others’ backs as noted by veteran news-photographer Kevin Benz), they do not guarantee safety.
The tragic loss of photographers Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros in Libya earlier this week, is another grim and harrowing reminder of the danger and risks involved in conflict zone reporting; be it as an independent or a member of a crew.
Hence, while deploying solo MMJs to conflict zones may be tempting for major networks (highly effective and cheap), now, or later, is not the time for cutbacks that could further jeopardize the safety and security of those who, courageously and selflessly, step in harm’s way to report on the horrors of conflict without first putting much thought into the ‘real cost’ of “cost-effectiveness”.
Maggie Padlewska is an independent video journalist and founder of the One Year One World initiative; a solo journey around the globe to document and share the stories of people who lack the resources to share their views and ideas with the world (oneyearoneworld.com). She has worked as television news reporter, host, director, producer, editor and writer for both national and international networks for more than a decade. She is a fearless multilingual nomad with several degrees, a passion for storytelling, and a relentless curiosity of the world.