My War Correspondent

People with military training read the news about the Iraq War differently. We look for information about the war like an architect might read the news about the construction of a new skyscraper. We don't expect to get much useful information from journalists. But we do try to parse the news in an effort to understand military strategy and tactics.

There is some good reporting coming from Iraq. John Burns of the New York Times submits informative stories on Iraqi politics, which is helpful in understanding some military matters. The Pentagon's journalists report tactical events well, although they seem reluctant to put much context into their reporting, presumably for bureaucratic reasons. However, their submissions are useful for getting a good historical accounting of military activities.

But it is the independent journalists who are producing the best war correspondence. Men like Michael Yon, Bill Roggio and Bill Ardolino report on military action as they see and experience it directly. Unlike the mainstream reporters, they don't depend on Iraqi stringers for information - stringers who have been shown to be undependable at best, and enemy combatants at worst (a true stain on the reputation of western journalism). Rather, they are on the ground and in the battle space with the troops, like war correspondents of an earlier day.

Most of the independents have military backgrounds and their reporting is informed, analytical and insightful. As such, they mesh well with the forces with whom they are are embedded, giving the reporters greater access to events and allowing the troops to remain effective in their work. *

Sadly, the community of journalists has not been particularly supportive of the independents. There comes a constant refrain from some quarters that Yon, Roggio and others are no more than hacks shilling for the military. However, for those who actually read the reporting, it is clear that the independent correspondents are in no one's back pocket. They are plenty willing to criticize the conduct of the war, as Michael Yon has on many occasions. Barbs coming from the traditional media often sounds more like professional jealousy than informed critique.

This new type of internet based reportage may have a significance beyond the simple fact that these guys are out shining their professional colleagues. Wars tends to speed up change on a variety of fronts, and produce new paradigms in social, technical as well as military fields. Today's media, weakened by its inability to access the battle and report objectively, increasingly loses readers to these independent operators.

Much as the Vietnam War is seen as the war that ushered in TV news as an important form of journalism, the Iraq War may someday be seen as seminal event in creating "private journalism". More than just blogging, private journalism is news funded by small groups of like-minded contributors interested in specific issues. For lack of better terminology, it might be called micro-direct subscription journalism.

This is all possible because information distribution and accounting and billing services are very inexpensive. More advertising revenue would increase the number of people doing this kind of work, and it seems likely that a method for directing adequate ad dollars to the independents will emerge over time.

In any case, these independent contractors are taking up the mantel of the traditional war correspondent and improving on the job being done, or not done, but traditional media. And even after the end of the hostilities in Iraq, it is a good bet that this type of reporting will continue on military issues, and extend to other specialized fields.


* As an aside, it is deeply troubling that western media companies are encouraging young female telejournalists to report directly in hostile battle environments. No matter what kind of feminist your are, this has to be considered completely inappropriate. The military doesn't even deploy well trained female soldiers in direct combat, and it is disgraceful that these companies are doing so in some misplaced effort to demonstrate equality of the sexes. It has been reported that several female journalists have returned from Iraq suffering with significant battle trauma. And, of course, there is an extra burden on the soldiers and Marines who are forced protect noncombatants who are not in an adequate physical state to be present in combat.

3 comments:

JP

11:48 AM

Nice photo. Reminds me of one time when Jake and his "knucklehead" buddy borrowed a skiff and provoked a confrontation with and irate New Yorker. Being that this is a family blog, I'll leave out the dialog...

Terrence McCarthy

1:50 PM

A good read re: all this is " A War Like No Other " by Victor Davis Hanson. It's about the Peloponnesian War, but with lots of interesting stuff about other wars, including the one now being waged in Iraq. Too bad there's no Michael Herr types writing about Iraq. His Dispatches is in a league of its own. Of course, there's Kevin Sites...

Jake

1:57 PM

Agree on both issues. VDH is great for a little perspective on war in general. And Dispatches was a seminal work. Read it in college to get some contrast from Vann's mess of a book, which came out at around the same time. Don't have much of an opinion on Sikes. Seems OK, but maybe a little PC for my tastes. Not sure though.