Journalists in Syria freelance at their own risk

The New York Observer reports: This summer, Francesca Borri, an Italian journalist, wrote an article for The Columbia Journalism Review about the perils that she faces as a freelancer in Syria. Many were stunned that Ms. Borri gets paid $70 per article, which barely covered the $50-per-night mattress on the ground in a rebel base (where Ms. Borri wrote that she got typhoid), let alone insurance.

“The editors are well aware that $70 per piece pushes you to save on everything. They know, too, that if you happen to be seriously wounded, there is a temptation to hope not to survive, because you cannot afford to be wounded,” Ms. Borri wrote. “But they buy your article anyway, even if they would never buy the Nike soccer ball handmade by a Pakistani child.”

Although $70 is on the low end, it’s not that far from major outlet rates. According to journalists we spoke to, most print publications pay in the low hundreds. TV pays more, but not by much.

It’s almost impossible to come out ahead while covering a war zone, with myriad costs including drivers, lodging, plane tickets, safety gear, insurance and so-called fixers, locals who act as translators and guides and charge upwards of $100 per day.

“You have no guarantee of selling of your story to cover the significant expenses you incurred reporting it,” said Ayman Oghana, a freelance photojournalist and reporter based in Istanbul. “Out in the field, that can drive you to stay longer or take greater risks to get something you think may sell. It also means you don’t have an editor to coordinate with on decisions or telling you, for your own safety, enough is enough, pull out and take care of yourself.”

And it isn’t just the cost of covering the war. The new model of relying on freelancers doesn’t take into account the unprecedented dangers in Syria, where journalists are very often targeted from the moment they cross the border. Veteran journalist Marie Colvin died last year during a rocket attack on Homs, after Syrian forces reportedly pledged to kill “any journalist who set foot on Syrian soil.”

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 13 local and international journalists are currently missing in Syria, a number that doesn’t include aid workers, fixers and the cases that are unreported due to the belief that, in some cases, publicizing a kidnaping makes it more difficult to negotiate release. [Continue reading…]

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