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.

Journalist James Foley remains missing after being kidnapped in Syria in Nov. 2012

James Foley, Aleppo, Syria - 11/12 (photo by Nicole Tung) - Foley was kidnapped in Syria while reporting and last seen Nov. 22, 2012
James Foley, Aleppo, Syria – 11/12 (photo by Nicole Tung) – Foley was kidnapped in Syria while reporting and last seen Nov. 22, 2012

“Unidentified gunmen kidnapped a US journalist on Thanksgiving Day [2012]. More than a month later, he remains missing. American James Foley, 39, was last seen on Nov. 22 in Idlib Province. Idlib has been the scene of heavy fighting in recent months between Syrian rebels and government forces.” -Global Post, US journalist missing in Syria

2012 was a bad year to be a journalist. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 70 journalists were killed as a result of their job, while Reporters Without Borders has the number at 89, and the International Press Institute reports a record year at 133 journalists killed on the job or as a consequence of their reporting. All of these organizations report that Syria was the most dangerous country for journalists, media workers, and citizen journalists last year. And last week we learned that American journalist James Foley, a writer and videographer, was kidnapped on Nov. 22, 2012, in Idlib Province, Syria.

His condition and whereabouts are still unknown 48 days (as of this writing) after his disappearance. Foley’s family decided to spread word of his kidnapping in January 2013 with a public appeal asking for his safe return. You can keep up to date with the case at FreeJamesFoley.org‘s latest news page.

Add your name to the appeal for James Foley’s safety and return or, if you know anything about his whereabouts, please send information to the family.

In the time since Foley’s kidnapping, many other journalists have been killed or faced violence or other repercussions as a result of their reporting. Keep up to date with the Committee to Protect Journalists’ news alerts.

Amanda Lindhout still hostage in Somalia

I hadn’t heard much about Amanda Lindhout‘s kidnapping recently (wikipedia). She’s been held hostage for more than a year in Somalia without adequate food, water, or medicine. There’ve been unconfirmed accounts of rape and of her having given birth to a Somali child as a result of rape. Her captors have released statements that she is “very contented with her marriage relationship with one of her captors.” I cannot imagine the hell she is living through. I hope for her safe and speedy return to freedom.

(via lightstalkers)