Journalism in a changing media environment (Op-ed)

Check out my new op-ed for the international Journnalist Post,
see here
and here


Martin Gerner, who worked as a journalist for 20 years in the Afghan
war and many other conflicts, gives advice to the younger generation
who wants to become war correspondents and conflict journalists:
“Prepare yourself professionally for a conflict zone, the conditions,
the people and the security situation.”

Wars, crises and disasters (such as the recent earth-
quake in Turkiye and Syria): all are situations in
which journalists intervene. Called by what they
understand to be the task, indeed the mission, of the so-called
fourth estate. The form of reporting is at the same time con-
flict-laden. Intervening reporters want to learn a lot in a very
short time. They find themselves in situations where trust is a
rare commodity and must first be earned. A learning process.
Reporting and thus the audience benefit from it. If the chal-
lenge of reporting is negated or neglected, the sources will also
close themselves.
I am asked to contribute here on the topic “War journal-
ism and advice for the young generation who want to become
journalists in conflicts”. Twenty years of experience in the Af-
ghanistan war, in the conflicts in Iraq, Turkiye and Africa are
little and much at the same time that I can look back on.
Is there such a thing as war journalism? Who is called a
war reporter? I can ́t speak here for the younger generation,
for whom 9/11, the War on Terror is history rather than ex-
perienced reality. I distinguish between good and not so good
journalism. In other words: to prepare professionally for a
conflict area, for the circumstances, people and security situa-
tion. Everyone should know and have in mind the two-source
principle and counterstatement as quality criteria, although
the limits to this lie in the nature of a conflict.

War reporters who call themselves such or are given this
label by prominent media are often enough parachuted, i.e.
briefly intervening in a conflict. That makes them strangers.
Nevertheless, stories can become authentic. Most likely when
a minimum of time is invested in the conflict parties. But
above all toward the civilian population.
Where wars and crises are becoming more and more nu-
merous, involved (media) actors have been trying to propagate
peace journalism for quite some time. Recently, the concept
of constructive journalism has been on the rise. The latter
asks important, absolutely necessary questions. At the same
time, it, too, is in danger of being instrumentalized by interest
groups in and outside the media sphere
In the past, so-called leading media from TV and print, oc-
casionally radio, dominated the market. Today, the field has be-
come unmanageable in the face of social media, which is often
enough no longer social. Who can still claim a leading function
here, and on the basis of what criteria? At the same time, new
diversity and confusion increase the likelihood that real and
self-appointed media moguls will choose their audience in or-
der to manipulate it (successfully). Authoritarian systems, but
also democracies, send their regards.
Never has an independent “fourth power” been more ur-
gent than today. But the consensus on what kind of means are
needed to establish an informational consensus in the media
society is increasingly faltering. The growing distrust of the
public media worldwide is just one sign of this.

(Crisis) journalism is changing rapidly with each passing
month. Data journalism, for example, is becoming increasing-
ly important. Quantitative information is gaining in impor-
tance. But does that automatically mean we get better qualita-
tive reports? A false conclusion, if you think about statistics of
soccer matches. 90% ball possession does not guarantee a goal.
One of the few positive trends in the current conflicts and
wars: solvent media work more and more with research teams,
often made up of permanent employees. This makes longer,
ideally investigative research more possible. Research teams
bring more security for the individual author and reporter. In
times of growing militarization and aggressive manipulation,
these teams appear to be a pure necessity, both politically and
legally, and probably also in order to survive in the real world.
The foreign and crisis reporter on his own belongs to a dying

Those who go into conflicts need local contact points.
Whether in war zones or earthquake zones. Local stringers or
fixers are often important guarantees of survival. They estab-
lish a network of contacts, create trust and overcome language
and cultural barriers. Unfortunately, we all too rarely find the
names and work of these colleagues in the reports.
In the Afghanistan war, the majority of foreign reporters
worked embedded, that is, integrated into a military logic from
which (alone) no balanced reporting is possible. The best way
to learn about the many realities, moods and truths of a con-
flict is to get out of the embed and into the midst of the peo-
ple, the civilian population, and thus between the fronts. This
takes time, an independent spirit and, increasingly, resources.
When things get tight, you need allies who will jump to
your aid if necessary. Proven journalists’ associations are help-
ful here, both international and national, representing the
profession as best they can in the corners of the world. Knowl-
edge of the local languages helps, according to all experience.
Just as we in the West welcome people from crisis areas when
they begin to speak our language, so do people at war when
they realize that someone is genuinely interested in them and
beyond preconceived stereotypes.

  • Martin Gerner is a reporter for ARD and Deutschlandfunk,
    film writer and book author. Since 2004 he has been training local
    journalists in crisis and war zones.