Conflict Journalist?
September 29, 2008 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Help me find a job as a "conflict journalist" in Africa, the Middle East, or a war zone.

Asking on behalf of a good friend: He has extensive experience and a very solid resume as a journalist, and is fluent in 3 languages (English, German, Hungarian). He is currently working as a correspondent from his home country, and has successfully completed professional assignments in "conflict zones" such as Sudan, Chad and Afghanistan. He is mainly a writer but also a decent photojournalist.

However, he would like to turn his interest in conflict journalism into a career and be based in such a location for the long term, preferably in Africa. I suggested Kenya, Somalia, or the Ivory Coast as well as places he has already traveled to; he would be thrilled to take a position in Iraq or Afghanistan. Ideally he could have a permanent base somewhere in the region (East or West Africa, ME or West Asia?) and optionally travel as a regional correspondent.

So how can he find his dream job as a conflict journalist? Where to start the job search? I assume the sorts of positions he's interested in haven't got much competition, as they are so dangerous, and he is definitely qualified but not so much networked in the region. Does he have a good chance of finding a posting, and what action can he take to start networking and finding media companies, agencies, NGOs etc. that might employ him?
posted by xanthippe to Work & Money (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I thought most "conflict journalists" were freelancers? That being the case, I figure on it working a lot like this:

1. Put journalistic equipment in bag
2. Lace on a good pair of boots
3. Travel to warzone
4. Find good stories to report on, write them well and write them true and don't get your fucking head blown off
5. Return to hotel, sell story to media contacts.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:08 PM on September 29, 2008

He might check out Lightstalkers. I think this stuff is actually really competitive. He should probably know that though. Plenty of people want this kind of thing, and the market is dropping for journalism in general. So I think people do personal projects until they have a portfolio and then try to market it.

I don't know though. Lightstalkers is a good bet.
posted by sully75 at 4:30 PM on September 29, 2008

I assume the sorts of positions he's interested in haven't got much competition, as they are so dangerous

The complete opposite is true. For the exact same reason that your friend is interested in these sorts of postings, everyone with a big sense of adventure who thinks he or she can write, film, take pictures, or otherwise capture the human experience would give a limb for one of these jobs. For every story published, there are dozens or hundreds of people who are pining to be the person who writes those stories.

People work for years full time in journalism to get the opportunity to take a position like the ones you describe. Many people who work on staff for newspapers and magazines lobby to be sent abroad, especially to places with action; most of them never get there. And people who can't get full time jobs at media outlets do what turgid dahlia suggests: they pick up and go there any way they can, find stories, capture them, and then sell them.
posted by decathecting at 9:00 PM on September 29, 2008

A possible route that this guy I met followed: if his English language skills are up to mark, often English newspapers in developing countries hire foreign nationals at rock bottom salaries. Mostly they work in editorial positions or cover lightweight stories, but it's a good way to spend 6 months making contacts in the region he's interested in. You mentioned Afghanistan: the English press in Pakistan is fairly vibrant and is where the guy I met got his start.

Another way, as the others have suggested, is simply to go wherever he wants to work and find stories. Since he's already worked in his own country, he might be able to sell stories to his own country's papers, and then work up from there.
posted by tavegyl at 9:51 PM on September 29, 2008

Response by poster: Turgid Dahlia and Tavegyl, he's already done that. The challenge is to find him a real (i.e. salaried) posting as the next step.
posted by xanthippe at 11:04 PM on September 29, 2008

Well, to be honest, I think it's unlikely he'll find a salaried position at this point. News companies have cut their overseas bureaux or scrapped them altogether. He might have better luck as a blogger (simply an idea - I have no clue if war blogging even exists)

As for NGOs: I may be missing something, but I'm not sure how this would relate to his interest in conflict journalism, unless he's working in the communications office of a major international NGO where he might write advocacy stories and take photos. In this case, ReliefWeb is a good resource for international openings. Short-term communications NGO-ish positions often lead to longer term positions. And communications openings follow the wars and natural disasters. But it's not going to be hardcore news, (again, unless I'm missing something) and he's going to be kept in a secure bubble as far as possible.

In any case, best of luck to him.
posted by tavegyl at 12:44 AM on September 30, 2008

I'd advise him to stay teh hell out of Somalia at the moment. I'm a journo, and one of of our former photographers has just been kidnapped there. Things are not looking good for Somalia right now, and while it makes for great reporting, it also makes for a lot of dead reporters.

A Kenyan journo I spoke to had just come back from Somalia, and he said that you WILL be killed/kidnapped unless you have specific permission from a warlord. Even the NGOs can't keep journos safe.
posted by indienial at 2:29 AM on September 30, 2008

I work at a major Canadian daily that is still able to afford bureaus in many of the major economic and conflict zones of the world. In my discussion with foreign correspondents, they've made themselves known by being solid journalists at their home papers, covering their beats at home.

Once the editorial staff have noticed them they get posting in other parts of the countries, some leeway with features abroad, then a posting.

It should also be noted that many foreign correspondents are in a rotation. For example, they'll spend a few years in X, then Y then Z, then back to their paper, then back off again. It helps keep it fresh. Getting into that rotation is not easy.

True, our paper, like others, often solicits freelance material from writers and photojournalists. However, you have to be damn good. The only stringers/freelancers for photos that my paper uses are people with former wire experience, or who were formerly staff at out paper. So, a pretty good photo journalist (unless you are the only one in place X) will not cut it. Wires, like Reuters, Getty, AFP, and AP and others, will likely beat you to the bill.

Large circulation and budget papers have extensive connections with other papers. Like, the NYT reprints material from our paper, and we reprint theirs, from time to time.

Final: If you want to make conflict-journalism your career then find a paper to hire you as a beat reporter, spend a few years there, make a name for yourself with the papers and build a face-to-face report. When you're ready to go abroad again, go, be it as one of their correspondents, or on your own.

The truth is, there are tonnes of people who want to do the same, and they're already in that rotation, waiting in line, or in the country of conflict.

good luck.
posted by mistertoronto at 8:31 PM on December 31, 2008

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