Story of a Photojournalist in Conflict

We (as journalists) need to ask ourselves, “Is there more behind the events than what we see on the surface?” Or, “Am I being used by media-savvy actors to promote the war aims of any side?” The role of a peace driven journalist is to understand the other sides’ difficulty in moving towards reconciliation and to explore those difficulties.

Journalists try to pretend that they are objective, but we all know better. As a journalist we need to drop the assumption that we are just following the events. For example: In Rwanda, events on the ground initially seemed too many international reporters to be simply “ethnic violence” and “chaos”, but after a time, it became clear that an organized genocide was taking place. Looking deeper is a sign of experienced professional journalist. As experienced journalists, we know we make decisions in what to report and how to report it all the time. Or so we think…

This is the ideology; this is how it is supposed to be in the ideal world this is how it is if one does not want to look at reality. I remember talking to a CNN camera crew after they staged an Israeli protest. I observed several Israelis hanging out along the roadside waiting for the news crew to arrive. CNN pulled up in their bullet proof SUV while I stood next to my 15 year old paint stripped Jeep watching the events as they unfolded. The Israeli’s ran to their cars, opened the trunks and pulled out numerous protest signs. They quickly ran across the road, started yelling and waving their arms, holding the signs and staring into the camera. The camera crew walked around the group of “protesters” to acquire various points of view and filmed the crowd for 5 minutes ran back into their SUV and left. Once the camera crew left, the group (of about 10) Israeli’s packed up their belongings and left the scene. The entire process took about 10 minutes. Later, on CNN International news the “protest” was the cover story for the evening. I watched the broadcast sitting next to the camera crew in the ever famous American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem where all the elite news reporters stayed. I asked one of the reporters, “Don’t you feel bad about what you did today at the protest?” He took a drink of his beer and looked at me shrove his shoulders and said, “No, if I didn’t do it someone else would, I may as well be making a paycheck instead of them.” He paused in silence for a minute and said, “Hay, we give them what they want.” I knew that this reporter makes about 400, 000 a year or more.

While I, a little freelance photojournalist, lives upon the stones, drinks water and eats bread to uphold the ideology in my self honored profession, that “we journalist’s” are supposed to abide by.

The encounter promptly pushed me to stand my ground and motivated me not to even think about developing my career in the direction of that reporter. Rain or shine, feast or famine, I will uphold the ethics in true reporting! I became stronger and more determined to “report the other side” to go where the underdogs are and to be where “no man has gone before” (the other reporters). To assist the unseen in having a platform from which they can voice their concerns and hardships.

All well and said, however in truth and reality, I found that the media outlets who might be interested in “behind the scene” stories accompanied with glossy photographs are minimal and hard to come by. If I found an outlet, it was usually for a free website here and a news website there. Sometimes I was lucky to sell to a London magazine, but the editor could not buy from me all of the time, his magazine was bi-monthly and they liked to publish a variety of authors. When I needed money, I would go where everyone else went; (meaning the reporters) to take what I call “propaganda shots” to sell to the AP or Reuters. Yet, sometimes, they took up to 6 months to pay me for the photos they used so in reality it wasn’t much help. The real problem is the lack of money and support for the “alternative or left-winged” news outlets. Some magazines stay open for a few months, but the budget soon runs out due to the lack in interest to advertise for fear of the company being “connected”.

When I search for a part time job, to help maintain a living, it is then I remember the conversation that I had with the CNN reporter and wonder who the smart guy really is: Is it them or is it me?