War journalism is a form of journalism focusing on war or conflicts and their consequences. War journalism can take the form of written newspaper articles, photographs, videos, or audio recordings. War journalism is a genre of journalism that serves society by informing mass audiences with frequent updates to the rapidly unfolding events of different conflicts.
War journalism has a fluid genre nature. Today war journalists take on many different roles. Some work for news companies, some are civilian bloggers writing in their free time, and some are veterans who publish their survived war experiences. Video recordings from soldiers and civilians alike can provide content within the genre. War journalism shows events related to war as well as war itself. Content of related events includes interviews with civilians, photography of areas hit by missiles, or video coverage of unofficial militia factions.
War journalism tends to be narrative and descriptive in style. A prime example of a narrative war journalism piece is Tucker Carlson’s Esquire article covering his experience tagging alongside private military contracters in Iraq around 2004. While the article has moments where it discusses security companies’ CEOs and their policies, the majority of content revolves around Carlson’s intense and chaotic experience in war-torn Iraq. Interview articles with high-ranking military personnel can use a descriptive matter-of-fact tone. Likewise, interview videos with civilians whose homes were destroyed by artillery can be narrative.
The father of war journalism was William Howard Russell. He was sent to cover the Crimean War in 1854 for The Times (known today as TIME magazine). He famously described himself later in life as the “miserable patient of a luckless tribe” in response to the emergence of many more journalists who also dedicated themselves to reporting wars.
War journalism extended into World War 2. Dorothy Thompson was a female American journalist who traveled to Nazi Germany to gather stories for American audiences before America had joined the Allies and began fighting Germany. Thompson was invited by the Nazi Party to interview Adolf Hitler for Cosmopolitan magazine in 1931. Thompson’s later published writings – which were regularly critical of the Nazis – drew negative attention from the Nazi Party. In 1934, Hitler personally expelled her from Nazi Germany.
The Vietnam War was the first war to be televised. By 1960, Americans were receiving the majority of their news from the television. Footage regularly aired showing planes flying, sometimes dropping bombs, and troops marching, sometimes in combat.
A major concern about war journalism is the physical danger it poses to journalists. A little over 2,000 journalists have been killed between 1997 and today- an average of over 75 per year. Journalists put themselves at risk of being hunted by terrorists or accidentally shot down by their own countrymen. Namir Noor-Elden was working for Reuters in Iraq when an American Apache helicopter gunner received permission to shoot him because the gunner mistook the camera slung around his shoulder for a rocket launcher.
Today’s popular access to smartphones enables anyone to become a war journalist by photographing or video recording events and uploading them in real time to popular digital platforms like Twitter and Telegram. This widespread ability has unfortunately opened the discourse for more voices to spread lies and propaganda. For example, in the current conflict between Ukraine and Russia, videos have emerged of surrendered forces being subject to torture or execution. Both sides’ officials claim it’s the other side committing cruelties while their own side is taking precautions to ensure prisoners of war are being treated humanely.
- Inside the (Not-So) Secret Armies of Operation Iraqi Freedom by Tucker Carlson https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a48032/private-armies-operation-iraqi-freedom/
- Excerpt from The War Correspondent by Greg McLaughlin, https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt19qgf0x.5?seq=1
- War Reporters: William Howard Russell by Seema Syeda https://www.military-history.org/feature/19th-century/war-reporters-william-howard-russell.htm
- Dorothy Thompson by United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, https://exhibitions.ushmm.org/americans-and-the-holocaust/personal-story/dorothy-thompson
- Excerpt 2 from The War Correspondent by Greg McLaughlin, https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt19qgf0x.6?seq=1
- The Vietnam War and the Media by Ronald H. Spector https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Vietnam-War-and-the-media-2051426
- Death Watch Program by International Press Institute, https://ipi.media/programmes/death-watch/
- Leaked U.S. video shows deaths of Reuters’ Iraqi Stafers by Reuters Staff, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iraq-usa-journalists/leaked-u-s-video-shows-deaths-of-reuters-iraqi-staffers-idUSTRE6344FW20100406
- Ukraine to probe after videos of show alleged Russian POWs shot, abused by Yaron Steinbuch https://nypost.com/2022/03/28/ukraine-to-probe-after-videos-show-alleged-russian-pows-shot/
- U.S. says credible reports indicate Russians executed surrendering Ukrainians by Rebecca Falconer https://www.axios.com/russian-troops-executed-surrendering-ukrainians-us-report-746990f0-bb72-48d3-becc-2981f6c1225c.html