Is covering conflict a journalistic necessity?

On the 14th of August this year, 61-year-old Mick Deane went to work and expected to return home to his family once his work was done.

On the 14th of August this year, 61-year-old Mick Deane went to work and expected to return home to his family once his work was done. Like most 61-year-olds Mick had a family to go home to and was most likely looking forward to getting out of his work clothes and relaxing after a long stint in the office.

Except unlike most, Mick’s office was a helicopter or a jeep or a stretch of land and his day’s work was to film current foreign affairs news for Sky News. And having worked as a cameraman for Sky News for 15 years, Deane was shot whilst filming the latest violence and bloodshed that erupted in Egypt two weeks ago.

Two Egyptian reporters were also shot dead on the 14th of August and reports of at least six others suffering gun shot wounds were reported by Journalists without Borders during the clashes between security forces and protestors demonstrating against the removal of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi.

In the space of a single day in Cairo, then, at least 9 reporters and media employees were shot and wounded.

Numbers are depressingly common

Numbers like these are depressingly common in today’s conflict driven global world. Indeed, according to the Doha Centre for Media Freedom at least 110 professional or citizen journalists have been killed in Syria whilst reports of abductions, rapes and the torture of media employees are increasingly hitting the newsstands. Over the entirety of 2012 it has been reported that journalist fatalities rose to approximately 13 per cent.

Back in February of this year The Atlantic ran an interview with former Reuters correspondent Anne Sebba emblazoned with the title “It’s More Dangerous Than Ever To Be A Female War Reporter” whilst both The Independent and The Telegraph have waded into the debate on the dangers that foreign correspondents and freelance journalists drawn to conflict zones face every day.

The decline of the media profession

Much has been said in recent years about the decline of the media profession as social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook circulate news before journalists even get a chance to put the nib of their pen to paper so to speak.

So if the risks of conflict reporting are steadily getting higher yet the return or the presumed relevance of such reporting is rapidly declining in the face of around the clock tweeting and uploading, will we see a dearth of conflict reporters risking their lives to get the story?

If we do it will be a crying shame.

Conflict reporters needed more than ever

Despite the huge risks that journalists put themselves in, the need for conflict reporters, cameramen like Deane and the news crews, fixers and support that accompany them are more important than ever.

With news travelling around the world in a second, society today has become somewhat anesthetized to conflict. Conversations over cups of coffee brush upon conflict, “Oh did you hear Egypt’s in trouble again,” before moving swiftly on.

The conflict that dominated newsstands one week will be replaced by another the week after until those passing stands by assume conflicts only ever last a week or so.

Isn’t this exactly what we’ve seen in August alone? Only last week the topic of conversation was Egypt and what was going to happen yet this week the only topic of conversation, when ‘conflict’ is brought up, is whether the Syrian government did indeed use chemical weapons.

Yet the Syrian Civil War has been going on for two years.

Needed to add depth and humanity to the discussion

With society becoming ever more fickle and attention spans becoming shorter than those of a goldfish, conflict reporters are there to keep the public informed. Without them Syria or Egypt or Nigeria or Rwanda would just be another place where another conflict has just erupted. War correspondents are needed to add depth and humanity to the discussion.

So whilst newsstands may not be focusing on Egypt or Mick Deane or any of the other reporters who died anymore, without them the Egyptian conflict would have been just another conflict in just another place.

What do you think of the coverage of conflicts and the role of war correspondents? Is the risk too high or is it a journalistic necessity? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.