Must read: When a Kidnapped Journalist Is a Freelancer

“Publishers reap all the rewards of working with freelancers, but assume none of the risks. If something terrible happens at any point leading up to, or following the transaction, the publisher bears no responsibility.” -Jaron Gilinsky, When a Kidnapped Journalist Is a Freelancer

In the past year, we’ve posted a few items about the increasing use of freelancers in conflict reporting. Using freelancers, publications save money and mitigate risk, shifting the substantial risks, both personal and financial, to vulnerable and often young freelancers. If you haven’t already, spend a few minutes with Jaron Gilinsky‘s piece When a Kidnapped Journalist Is a Freelancer. Gilinsky is CEO of Storyhunter, a website that helps freelance video journalists pitch and showcase their work.

In the piece, Gilinsky details a few recent cases of freelance conflict reporters who’ve been kidnapped or killed in recent years. Ali Mustafa‘s family was saddled with $20,000 in debt just to retrieve the young photographer’s body from Syria, and the photo agencies who bought his pictures offered no help. Both James Foley (previously) and Austin Tice have been missing for years; the Global Post has helped Foley’s family search for the reporter, but the Washington Post has apparently done little to find their stringer. Molhelm Barakat (previously) was killed while stringing for Reuters without hazardous situation training, insurance, or protective gear, and he may have been under 18.

Gilinsky offers the most detail in contrasting the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping of journalists Javier Espinosa and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova in Syria. Espinosa is a staff reporter El Mundo, but Vilanova is a freelancer who has worked with Gilinsky’s Storyhunter website. Both were eventually released after six months in captivity, but the ordeal played out differently for the two journalists. Because he was a staffer, Espinosa’s family received his full salary and benefits throughout his captivity. For Vilanova, on the other hand, debt began to pile up as his studio rent, home mortgage, and other financial obligations began to pile up. There was no news organization to lend financial or legal resources to any negotiations that might have helped secure his release or provide for his family or funeral should the need arise. Friends and family created a crowdfunding campaign which raised nearly €40,000 as of this writing, which will pay Vilanova’s debts and allow him to purchase new gear to resume working.

Ultimately, Gilinsky argues that there needs to be systemic change within journalism to make it so freelancers no longer feel the need to undertake such substantial risk to make a living in the industry. He says publications and news organizations should require (and provide) insurance and conflict training to freelancers, and freelancers should refuse to work with publications that work with uninsured journalists. Last year, the Sunday Times said it would not buy work from Syria from freelancers, and other organizations should do the same. And organizations such as RISC, the Rory Peck Trust, and Reporters Without Borders, offer training and support to freelance conflict journalists.

Make sure to read Gilinsky’s piece.

Russia jails freelance photog; Russian media blackout photos in protest (UPDATED)


UPDATE 24 October 2013: Russia has dropped piracy charges against the 30 Greenpeace activists, including photographer Denis Sinyakov. They are now charged with “hooliganism,” which seems to be similar to a charge of “disorderly conduct” in the US. Lenta has the news in Russian.

UPDATE 29 September 2013: There’s now website gathering signatures of support and money for the legal defense fund (via Yandex and Paypal) for Denis Sinyakov: FreedomDenisSinyakov.ru

Original: This week Russian security forces arrested 30 Greenpeace activists who were protesting oil drilling in the Arctic. The group, comprising people from 18 nations, used a boat to approach a drilling operation, and a few members tried to board the platform. The activists were arrested and may be charged with piracy in addition to other crimes (though Putin questions the piracy charge).

Among those arrested was freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov, a Redux contributing photographer, who now faces months in prison. Reporters Without Borders has condemned Sinyakov’s arrest and sentence, calling it an “unacceptable violation of freedom of information.” Sinyakov has worked as a photographer for Greenpeace in the past, in addition to regular assignment work for Reuters and AFP. Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy has a petition asking for the release of Sinyakov, and Greenpeace has a petition asking for the release of all the arrested activists.

In protest of Sinyakov’s arrest, major independent Russian media sites have blacked out their photos today. As seen in the screenshots above, Dozhd, Novaya Gazeta, Russian Reporter, Ekho Moskvy, Znak, Lenta, Russkaya Planeta, and others have joined the call to release the photographer.

Conflict journalists organize with the Frontline Freelance Register

Conflict reporting is a dangerous undertaking increasingly dominated by the work of freelance journalists (as high as 80% of journalists working in Syria are freelancers), most of whom lack the legal, financial, and security resources of large news organizations while working in risky environments. Vaughan Smith, of London’s Frontline Club, and a group of freelance photographers and other journalists have organized the Frontline Freelance Register to address the issue of freelancers putting themselves at risk without the institutional backing of large news organizations (two French freelancers freelancers were just abducted in Syria; James Foley has been missing for 204 days as of the writing of this post). The FFR is billed as “a representative body for freelance journalists exposed to risk while gathering news” and will work to establish and promote industry-wide safety standards and best practices for journalists working abroad in difficult and dangerous circumstances.

If you work in dangerous environments, you can apply to join the FFR here.

Related: RISC trains freelance conflict journalists to treat life-threatening injuries in the battlefield.

(via BJP)