War Corresponding!
July 20, 2006 5:39 PM   Subscribe

I wanna be a WAR correspondent. How?

I crave excitement. I want to get shot at, get chased by swarthy men with weapons, and have crap explode all around me. I want every minute to be life or death, flight or fight experience.

Well, okay, I'm sure it's not quite that much fun. Regardless, how would one even go about becoming one? Are these people who got picked to go, or do they volunteer? I'll have a degree in anthropology (and can't change it) in two years or so. Is graduate school for journalism required?
posted by borkingchikapa to Work & Money (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 

I crave excitement. I want to get shot at, get chased by swarthy men with weapons, and have crap explode all around me. I want every minute to be life or death, flight or fight experience


that's what many people enlist for -- they get to blow shit up. being a war correspondent means you have to use your brain instead
posted by matteo at 6:06 PM on July 20, 2006


if you insist with the media thing, quit school and get a videocamera and a DSLR and a satellite phone and fly to some war zone and try to get some usable footage you can sell. maybe you'll get lucky and instead of getting hurt you'll film somebody else getting hurt. in the end that's the difference between a successful war photographer /correspondent and a dead one
posted by matteo at 6:10 PM on July 20, 2006


Response by poster: being a war correspondent means you have to use your brain instead.

Well, right. I don't want to kill anybody. I just want to be there.
posted by borkingchikapa at 6:23 PM on July 20, 2006


It *is* that much fun, I hate to admit. I've only done it once and I still dream about the adrenaline rush. You see horrible, terrible things, but life is never so immediate and important and simple again. Now I know why there is a whole group of globe-trotting nutbags who go from war to war, giving up most semblence of normal life - spouse, children, house etc. - just to chase the adrenaline. I've spent the last week trying to get sent to Lebanon but the girl thing keeps getting in my way.

You don't need a j-skul degree, in fact, one would probably hinder you. You need: a job with a press organization that will send you/or enough dough to get to a war zone along with promises from editors back home to buy your stuff; the smarts to stay out of minefields; the ability to talk your way out of things, and also to talk to just about anyone; the ability to talk the language of whatever country it is or be able to find an interpreter; a working knowledge of the history and issues confronting whatever country it is; an ability to write clean, unbiased prose even in the face of utter horror; steady nerves; and a pen and notebook (or minicam or whatever).
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:28 PM on July 20, 2006


I know this isn't exactly what you're looking for, but have you heard of Robert Young Pelton? He's not always a war reporter, but his stories might give you some insight?
posted by carabiner at 6:32 PM on July 20, 2006


Do you have to climb the journalism ladder to be a war correspondent? Or is it not a sought position?

You could always just go over and blog and hope to become popular on the merit of your writing. If you are popular enough (and host say, google ads) you could survive out there. After all, you like risk :-)
posted by phrontist at 6:33 PM on July 20, 2006


I know these are all photo-specific ideas, but that's my area...

Scroll down near the end of this page: http://www.nytimes.com/ref/business/media/asktheeditors.html?8dpc for some advice from Assistant Managing Editor for Photography
Michele McNally (ny times)

You might also seek out the film War Photographer, about Jim Nachtwey. Or read the book Shutterbabe.

And you also might want to consider working up to that sort of thing - seeing violent death up close and personally, and especially having it happen right in front of you can be quite difficult - and it rarely gets any easier, even with repeated exposure.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:35 PM on July 20, 2006


I'm not a war correspondent, but I have worked as a journalist, and have studied journalism under people far more knowledgeable than myself. Whenever the topic came up, the consensus was that a foreign correspondent (of which a war correspondent is a certain type) is one of the most sought-after and prestigous assignments for a journalist. No one in j-school says "I want to write meaningless community news for a 10,000 circulation paper in the middle of nowhere for $15,000 a year", but a ridiculous number of aspiring journos (and non-journos aside) express the desire to be a foreign or war correspondent. But there are a heck of a lot more community/business/sports/cops/whatever reporter positions than the minute handful of true war correspondents.

Other reasons for such a position being such a difficult gig to get? Well, truth of the matter is the vast majority of foreign news comes from wire services. Only a handful of newspapers can afford to staff foreign correspondents at all, let alone respond to every war and conflict around the globe. So in addition to being scarce, those jobs will naturally only occur in the largest, best-staffed and most prestigious newspapers, and the prospect of ever working for one of those at all is an impossible dream for most working journalists. Furthermore, as people continue to abandon newspapers, inevitably one of the first things to be cut is expensive but unprofitable ventures like foreign bureaus.

That's where the vast majority of foreign reporting (and war reporting) comes from, anyway. Get a job at a newspaper, toil for years or decades, work your way up, and fight for that war reporting gig someday. If you're interested in a career in newspapers, war or not, there is simply no better site for career advice than Joe Grimm's Ask the Recruiter. Grimm, the recruiter for the Detroit Free Press, is an inexhaustable supply of information about breaking into, making it in, and getting ahead in newspapers. He answers hundreds of questions, and chances are, he's answered quesitons similar to most anybody's. In fact, he answered a question about Covering War a while back.
posted by Eldritch at 6:41 PM on July 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


There is a significant difference betwen being an official correspondant on salary and a stringer, both of which have been menitoned here.
posted by fshgrl at 6:46 PM on July 20, 2006


Nothing's really stopping you from doing it freelance, like that kid awhile ago from Florida who just hopped on a plane without even knowing Arabic.

Interesting, I've read that's pretty much how Anderson Cooper started, he just flew to Burma and started sending reports to this place he used to work. Although he had the Vanderbilt fortune to support him.
posted by bobo123 at 7:01 PM on July 20, 2006


You should read Ambushed, by my friend Ian Stewart. He reported from Kashmir, Cambodia and Afghanistan, then became the bureau chief for West Africa for the Associated Press.

He was shot in the head in Sierra Leone and almost died. The photographer he was traveling with was killed.
posted by bisesi at 7:04 PM on July 20, 2006


Sorry for another photo related suggestion, but you may want to read some about Dan Eldon. He was young and promising at the time of his death in Somalia in the early '90s.

http://daneldon.org/
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:11 PM on July 20, 2006


Another great book besides all the ones that have been mentioned is My War Gone By, I Miss It So by Anthony Loyd which is a first hand account of covering the war in Bosnia with alternating chapters about being back in London and being a junkie because he missed his "war fix." He's pretty thoughtful and both parts of the book are equally compelling.
posted by jessamyn at 7:30 PM on July 20, 2006


Have you thought of getting a year or so of journalism experience (freelance or otherwise) before embarking on a war correspondent career? I think you'd have a better chance of being taken seriously by news organizations if you had some real journalism experience, not just a craving for excitement.

My guess is that if you want to go for immediate glory, and it sounds like you do, the only way to go is blog-based. This guy Kevin Sites seems to have a pretty sweet deal, getting to trot the globe solo on Yahoo's dime.
posted by jayder at 7:46 PM on July 20, 2006


Sorry, just realized that was the wrong link. Here's Sites's current Yahoo blog.
posted by jayder at 7:47 PM on July 20, 2006


Get a press pass from any local newspaper you can. Borrow 2k and head to Iraq.

That's how one successful journalist did it when he flew to El Salvador during their war.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 8:04 PM on July 20, 2006


You don't have to represent a press organization. There are a couple of bloggers who have gone to Iraq and been attached to military units there. It helps to be a veteran, though. (I'm wracking my brain trying to remember the names; sorry.)

At least one of them financed it by asking for contributions from his readers, who gave him enough to pay for the entire trip. He's back now and working on a book.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:08 PM on July 20, 2006


I crave excitement. I want to get shot at, get chased by swarthy men with weapons, and have crap explode all around me. I want every minute to be life or death, flight or fight experience.

Read that last sentence again. Now head for the inner cities of Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, etc, and report on the conditions there. It'll be less glamorous, but far less expensive and you may actually have a chance to do some good.
posted by frogan at 8:56 PM on July 20, 2006


Now head for the inner cities of Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, etc, and report on the conditions there. It'll be less glamorous, but far less expensive and you may actually have a chance to do some good.

I agree, and you should probably add Newark and Jersey CIty to that list too, if you head to the NYC area.
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:04 PM on July 20, 2006


a ridiculous number of aspiring journos (and non-journos aside) express the desire to be a foreign or war correspondent

I find this mildly amusing, since when I went to j-school in the mid-70s, everyone wanted to be an investigative reporter, thanks to Tricky Dick, Woodstein and a certain big office/residential complex on the banks of the Potomac. There aren't that many investigative slots open, either, though I think a good investigative journo can do more good than a war correspondent. Tho' it's not always that exciting...
posted by lhauser at 9:35 PM on July 20, 2006


While everyone's recommending books, and given the statement about adrenaline, I highly recomment War Junkie by Jon Steele.
posted by Lucie at 9:37 PM on July 20, 2006


Also on the topic of books: War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by veteran war correspondent Chris Hedges.
posted by jeffmshaw at 10:34 PM on July 20, 2006


And here's a recommendation for a book from someone who's spent his life on the 'front lines': Robert Fisk's 'Great War for Civilization'. A fascinating, long, rambling but ultimately wonderful look at what life is like being a journalist. I suspect he'd be a little suspicious of your motives and your post though; "WAR" (as you describe it) doesn't sound like the videogame that you're after. If you're looking for adrenaline, there are better sources for it; if you're looking to document what's happenning, however, then by all means become a foreign correspondant.

Sorry, I'm being snarky and it's late, but honestly, some posts rub me the wrong way. And for what it's worth, I've had family members who've been journalists and writers, and it doesn't sound like the videogame you're after. Life rarely is...
posted by rmm at 12:19 AM on July 21, 2006


If you want a look at the photography side of things you might want to check out the excellent short documentary The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club.
posted by MsMolly at 6:24 AM on July 21, 2006


War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by veteran war correspondent Chris Hedges.

Strongly seconded. And if after reading that book you still feel you "want every minute to be life or death, flight or fight experience," on your head be it.
posted by languagehat at 7:08 AM on July 21, 2006


Have you thought of getting a year or so of journalism experience (freelance or otherwise) before embarking on a war correspondent career? I think you'd have a better chance of being taken seriously by news organizations if you had some real journalism experience, not just a craving for excitement.

I second the idea of getting some experience first. You need to learn the game before you start playing in the league. Read about it and do it.
posted by orange swan at 8:22 AM on July 21, 2006


Slightly off topic, but for diversion you really should read Evelyn Waugh's Scoop and it's real life corollary, At War With Waugh
posted by IndigoJones at 8:41 AM on July 21, 2006


read: "its real life"
posted by IndigoJones at 8:42 AM on July 21, 2006


ReportingTheWorld
posted by anglophiliated at 8:57 AM on July 21, 2006


Also, just to underscore the "it's not a videogame" comment, you might want to look at this.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:59 AM on July 21, 2006


If you don't get killed, you have about as much chance as becoming a professional basketball player.
posted by docgonzo at 9:00 AM on July 21, 2006


I disagree with that, docgonzo. Your chance of becoming either a professional basketball player or a reporter is dependent on native ability, your work ethic, and luck - about 33% to each part. Borkingchikapa sounds rather naive to me, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have those three qualities.
posted by orange swan at 9:05 AM on July 21, 2006


Oh nonsense doc. To be a basketball player you need amazing athletic skill and freaky genes. To be a war correspondent, you basically just need to stay alive. The truth is that news is everywhere you look in a war zone and any dribbling idiot could get good stories. It's all about logistics - getting there, staying safe, and finding a way to file.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:11 AM on July 21, 2006


I second reading Robert Young Pelton's work (referenced above).
posted by Melinika at 12:17 PM on July 21, 2006


Also, you can always go see what a war zone is like by volunteering with one of the many humanitarian orgs that deliver supplies to refugees. You'd be right there, but you'd also have some organizational backup.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:33 AM on July 22, 2006


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