Robert Haddick, better known as Westhawk talks about the future of war correspondence in Tech Central Station. Or was he talking about the future of Blogging?
The days of the independent, neutral war correspondent, objectively reporting from a war's front lines, are quickly coming to an end. In the future, a war correspondent will either effectively be a soldier for one faction of a conflict, or he will literally not survive in the war zone.
This seems a straighforward appraisal of how the ground rules have changed for journalists in conflicts resembling Iraq. But Westhawk makes a far more interesting claim: that the resulting absence of journalists can sometimes be useful to the US as well.
What about the multitude of Islamist insurgencies, low-intensity conflicts, and counter-terror operations the U.S. faces in the years ahead? The U.S. will get the best results when it arranges a media blackout of these conflicts. The U.S. government will arrange such a blackout when it employs local proxies, militias, and tribes to do its fighting. There will be few or no U.S. conventional units going to such conflicts in the future with which reporters can embed. By contrast, reporters are almost never allowed to cover current special operations missions, such as those that would support such proxy wars. As for the local proxy and militia allies of the U.S., they are unlikely to have much sympathy for the needs and traditions of Fourth Estate.
A current example of these practices can be found in Somalia. There, the U.S. intelligence community and special operating forces have worked with the Ethiopian army and local Somali tribes to wage a campaign against an Islamist movement that had previously gained power in the country. There is virtually no Western news coverage from inside Somalia. Western reporters are forced to cover the war as best as they can from either Nairobi or Addis Ababa. Since the "common, everyman" U.S. soldier is not present, the U.S. media has little interest in the conflict. Few if any visual images of the Somali conflict make it to Western news media. The U.S. can sustain a conflict on these terms for a long time, far longer than the media-intensive war in Iraq.
One other possibility exists. The journalist may become psydonymous or covert, posting through a secure channel to editorial office. This may be happening already. The Associated Press declined to identify the Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalists which took pictures of an election worker being killed on Haifa Street, Baghdad. But if journalists can be anonymous, how are they different from a blogger who posts through cutouts to an Internet environment that will promote or discard his information, according to user consensus? Technorati claims there are zillions of new blogs posting text, photos, audio and video. These are the equivalent of human sensors which in an abstract sense are correspondents describing the external world. Either way the days of the independent "war correspondent" in the mold of Peter Arnett may have be numbered or their role in need of rework.