The Evolution of War Reporting
In recent decades, the way that conflicts around the world are reported has been transformed dramatically.
When legendary broadcaster Walter Cronkite criticized the war in Vietnam as a quagmire, it prompted President Lyndon B. Johnson to declare, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America." The media's role in shaping the public's attitude toward a war cannot be underestimated, but in recent years, there have been significant changes and challenges in how journalists carry out that role.
One major shift has come with the advent of online media. Adrian Baschuk (A'02) produces, shoots, records and edits his own stories as the Middle East correspondent for Current, the online and cable video network launched by Al Gore in August 2005. As an advocate of new media like Current, Baschuk thinks that online news outlets have trumped newspapers as a key source of information on current affairs.
Crocker Snow, director of the Edward R. Murrow Center for Public Diplomacy at The Fletcher School and a former war correspondent and foreign editor for The Boston Globe, is reluctant to go that far, saying that while new media outlets have had a tremendous impact on government, most of them, especially blogs, lack the credibility to become the new standard bearers of information.
"In war coverage, accountability is a huge question with blogs," says Snow, who calls print media the "agenda setter" and online media the "emotion creator." "There are very few bloggers who either have the time, resources or can get the press credentials to get themselves in the middle of a war situation."
Left: Murrow at work during World War II.
Daniel Drezner disagrees. An associate professor at The Fletcher School and international affairs blogger since 2002, Drezner says that since journalists are avid blog readers, bloggers can help determine what makes front page news.
"When there's an issue in the forefront, inevitably there's a blogger that develops expertise on the issue, so they become the go-to person," he says.
Photojournalist Jacob Silberberg (A'02), who has covered several armed conflicts, says that one potential danger of blogs is the prevalence of niche reporting. "I worry that if you have 100 different niches, people will produce news just to fill that niche and there will be no broad consensus."
The other development is the elimination of the middleman altogether. With the emergence of "citizen journalism," Snow says that technology is enabling participants to influence the coverage of conflicts first-hand, via e-mail, text messaging and other direct forms of communication. The Abu Ghraib scandal, for example, may not have gained traction without the images taken by the soldiers themselves.
"Some of the most vivid stories we're seeing are coming directly from the soldiers there," he says.
The rise of online media is arguably one reason for the decline of traditional media, such as newspapers. Publications can only cover as much as their resources allow, and even though Snow admits that war is good business for the media, those resources have recently been taxed. Amid declining advertising revenues in the newspaper business, for instance, papers such as the Globe have shuttered their foreign bureaus. (continued)
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Profile written by Georgiana Cohen, Office of Web Communications
Homepage photo: U.S. Marine Cpl. Jonathan Santiago takes off his helmet on top of his Amphibious Assault Vehicle after a patrol in Karabilah, Iraq, seven miles from Syria, on Dec. 1, 2005. (Jacob Silberberg (A'02) / Associated Press)
Other photos: Additional Iraq photo by Jacob Silberberg (A'02), Associated Press; Current screen images courtesy of Adrian Baschuk; Murrow photo from Tufts Digital Collections and Archives; Paul Joseph photo by Joanie Tobin, Tufts University Photo; Crocker Snow photo by Melody Ko, Tufts University Photo
This story originally ran on Apr. 9, 2007.