Don’t Rush Off To Homs Just Yet

Ann Friedman worries that freelance reporters are entering war zones without proper preparation or support:

I confess that I’ve been watching all the coverage of Amanda Lindhout’s book [profiled above] with a bit of chagrin. Lindhout, who traveled to Somalia as an aspiring journalist in 2008, was kidnapped along with her photographer companion and their guides. She spent 15 months in captivity before her family finally hired a private security firm and raised the ransom money. Later she collaborated with established journalist Sara Corbett – “we rented a really remote house in the Bahamas together and spent seven straight days in conversation” – to write a book about her ordeal. On Twitter she describes herself as an “adventurer,” but in much of the coverage, including a recent Today show appearance, she’s identified as a journalist.

“Why her and not me?” asks veteran journalist Robert Draper, who met Lindhout in a Mogadishu hotel before she was kidnapped, in an essay in ELLE. The answer seems pretty clear. She had traveled widely as a tourist but had zero institutional support and very little experience as a reporter.

As young journalists survey the professional landscape—the layoffs, the closure of foreign bureaus—just packing up and buying a plane ticket starts to seem like a viable option. As one guy wrote to me recently, “I am interested in getting to the Middle East as some sort of war correspondant [sic] or novice freelance frontline reporter. I believe I could find the connections with publishers to make the journey successful. What are some steps I could take to set up a trip and get a sponsorship loan on equipment in order to begin preparing for a deployment?” Every single hard-bitten war correspondent has had to start somewhere. It’s just that more and more of them are trying to get that start without the support or backing of an established news organization and without the mentorship of an experienced international reporter.