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.

BagNewsNotes looks at recent graphic execution images from Syria

Time Lightbox's warning about graphic images in their gallery showing an execution in Syria
Time Lightbox’s warning about graphic images in their gallery showing an execution in Syria

“Is it curious, for example, why the military would censor every and any image of a wounded US soldier, the media colluding with the blackout, while at the same time, after a supposed terrorist attack on an American marathon race, domestic media would be scrambling to outdo each another to disseminate the most bloody images of mangle limbs? And then, would there be any reason why the images of the public massacre of pro-Morsi demonstrators by the Egyptian police a couple weeks back would earn only cursory display while the media seems so eager, these Syrian photos in hand, to open an artery?” -All that Syrian Decapitation in the Media Lately: The New Abnormal? (GRAPHIC) / BagNewsNotes

Yesterday Time’s LightBox blog posted photos of the execution by decapitation of an unknown man by unknown assailants in Syria, photographed by an unknown photographer. It’s a graphic gallery, but they are not the only recent troubling images of executions in Syria. Recent coverage in Paris Match and the New York Times have focused on brutal executions committed by both Syrian rebels and the Assad regime. BagNewsNotes offers a reading and interpretation of what these photos, and their recent publication, mean in relation to broader political conditions. The pictures and reporting linked here are important in our understanding of the current Syrian problem and how our leaders are acting. So too, BagNews’ analysis is worth a read.

Citing risks of working there, Sunday Times tells freelancer paper won’t buy pictures from Syria

After submitting pictures from Aleppo this week Rick Findler was told by the foreign desk that “it looks like you have done some exceptional work” but “we have a policy of not taking copy from Syria as we believe the dangers of operating there are too great”. -Sunday Times tells freelances [sic] not to submit photographs from Syria

The British newspaper, The Sunday Times, has told a freelance photographer not to submit photos from Syria because the risk of working there is too great. After sending pictures from Aleppo, Syria, to the paper for consideration, conflict photographer Rick Findler was told that the paper has a policy not to look at non-commissioned reporting from the country. It’s an interesting development for the photojournalism industry, especially since closures of foreign bureaus have increased news publications’ reliance on freelancers for international reporting. Conflict reporting is a dangerous and expensive operation, and when things go bad freelancers lack the institutional support afforded to staff reporters.

Speaking to the Press Gazette, The Sunday Times policy deputy foreign editor Graeme Paterson cited just these concerns in explaining the paper’s policy against hiring freelancers to cover Syria or license their work from the region even after the reporter has gotten out of the country. Speaking on the matter, Paterson said, “…we take the same view regarding freelancers speccing in material. Even if they have returned home safely. This is because it could be seen as encouragement go out and take unnecessary risks in the future. The situation out there is incredibly risky. And we do not want to see any more bloodshed. There has been far too much already.”