Home CommentaryOpinions Behind the scenes with a war correspondent

Behind the scenes with a war correspondent

by Gregory Wilson September 4, 2012
Behind the scenes with a war correspondent


On August 20, Japanese foreign correspondent Mika Yamamoto was fatally shot while reporting on the civil war in Syria.

News of her death spread rapidly both through conventional news networks and Twitter, renewing the discussion on the safety of foreign reporters. Was Yamamoto too close to the fighting? Should she have been forbidden to report directly from Syria considering the danger?

Yamamoto, like every other foreign correspondent, chose to pursue this particular field of journalism, knowing the risks. News networks will support these foreign reporters the best they can without giving too many restrictions. There are also other subjects they will cover as they search to give the world a complete picture of the country they are reporting on.

Bryan Denton has worked in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent for seven years. He is a freelance photographer with the New York Times as his primary client. He has documented upheavals in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, to name a few. According to him, foreign reporters are aware and accept the danger they put themselves in.

Denton’s desire to become a foreign reporter stems from his fascination with history. As a child, he would read history books to understand how history shaped the world around him. Getting a front row seat to witness conflict and change is what incited him to become a foreign correspondent in the Middle East.

“I think the idea of conflict as part of the human experience has always interested me,” said Denton. “War has theoretical boundaries and characteristics, but its roots and causes are often unique and incredibly complex, and every conflict I’ve seen has been very different from the others.”

However, the price of being so close to the violence is sacrificing part of your safety. Denton said he spends lots of time planning his movements, such as finding the safest route to the frontlines.

“A lot of people think that we just rush in,” he said. “But in reality, there’s quite a bit of logistical planning that goes into reporting on conflict.’

Even the news agency he occasionally associates himself with will not push him towards a dangerous area. When he was working for the New York Times on an assignment for example, he said the editors “were always very clear about their desire for [him] not to take any unneeded risks. At times, the newspaper has sent a security advisor to help coordinate movements and provide medical support.” Despite these precautions, the newspaper usually trusted him to make the right decisions to ensure his safety.

Denton also said that as a reporter in a danger zone, he was equipped at all times with body armour, which included a vest and helmet, and a personal medical kit. He considers his medical kit, and his knowledge of how to properly use it, his prized possession.

Foreign correspondents don’t only report from the frontlines of a war zone in the midst of gunfire.

“The most interesting pictures are away from the frontline combat,” said Denton. “They are in hospitals, homes, and places where people are trying to survive.” He believes photographs of ordinary people in such countries are the best way to illustrate a specific conflict.

“Eventually, you need to look elsewhere or else you’re just putting yourself in more danger, searching for the same pictures you already have,” he said.

Correspondents that report exclusively from war zones are few and far between. Most are searching for ways to describe a country and its sociopolitical complexities in its entirety in a way that can resonate with strangers. Just like Denton, who demonstrates the ever present fear in Syria by posting a photograph of a rebel sleeping with his sniper rifle, foreign reporters will search past the battlefield for the real stories that lie hidden beyond the violence.

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