Better Early Than Never
Months after Michael Yon became prominent on the Internet for his Iraq war reporting and a full two days after his riveting Gates of Hell post drew near universal acclaim and exposure from the major blog outlets, the news hounds at the Star Tribune have picked up the scent of a story.
Their twin Washington Bureau Correspondents provide the article "Blog Brings the War Home." That title reveals the focus of this piece as the medium ("blogs") rather than the essence of the story (first-hand accounts of US soldiers in action). Here's their gee whiz summary:
In a sign of how technology is changing the way in which the war is reported, anyone with access to the internet can see the graphic episode that put [Lt. Colonel Erik Kurilla] in the hospital.
As if graphic episodes from war weren't known to the public until these "blogs" and the Internet came along. Photographic technology is over 150 years old and among the first images ever recorded for posterity (and rapidly disseminated by newspapers) were soldiers and combat and its consequences.
There is a natural demand by the public for these images. The real curiosity of this story isn't the new technology allowing greater information to get to the public. It's why the old technology (newspapers) have stopped providing it and have largely shirked the duty they once eagerly accepted.
Even Michael Yon's sterling reporting isn't a new thing. War correspondence has a proud tradition in journalism. Reporters like Ernie Pyle lived and fought and sometimes died, side-by-side with our soldiers (read some of his WWII columns here). They provided the kind of first-person, day-to-day accounts of the war the folks at home need to really understand what is at stake and how we're faring.
For whatever reason, the newspaper monopolies of today no longer provide that kind of coverage. Instead of Ernie Pyle, we have the likes of Hannah Allam, the Knight Ridder Bureau chief, getting plaudits for her reports of the war (which she files in between getting manicures and singing karaoke). And when the going got really tough, she left, only then expressing concern that perhaps she wasn't giving a full picture of what is going on in Iraq. (No word on whether that means she's returning her Knight Ridder Journalism Excellence Award.)
Yet Allam's brand of war correspondance is still considered unassailable truth by most of her colleagues in the press. A far different reception than what Michael Yon receives. Again, from the Star Tribune article:
As [Yon's] story finds an instant audience on the Internet, Paul Grabowitz, director of the new media studies program at the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, says blogs are permanently changing war coverage.
"It's much easier, obviously, for a freelancer to publish information that they've gotten for a story, whether text or photos or whatever," he said. "And it's not like somebody standing on a street corner passing out flyers that they mimeographed of 'My thoughts on the war in Iraq.' The Internet has lent credence ... to people who are independent, being part of the sort of mix of coverage of an event. ... I don't know how far that's going to go."
Note the worry expressed by the professor about this development. His words no doubt a megaphone for the concern of the Star Tribune authors of this article. Why, the independence of these freelancers, they have no editors, they have no corrections policies, they have no journalism degrees! And now they're getting .... credence! How far can this go?!
Everybody at Berkeley's School of Journalism and Star Tribune should just relax. They have nothing to fear of course, except the unknown. Although, gauging from those comments, what they don't know is extensive. Anyone reading Yon's work knows it is anything but "easy" for him to publish his information. Beyond the physical risks he's taking daily by operating in a combat zone, he has no institutional resources to rely upon. He pays for his own travel and equipment and relies upon his own journalistic instincts and ethical code alone for the accuracy and quality of his reporting. In truth, what he's doing is more difficult than the work assigned to any MSM reporter in Iraq. And he's still far out performing them all. On second thought, maybe they do have something to fear.