Take good care of yourself

Safety first is our theme for this week for journalistic blog scanners. From war zone to disrupted comfort zone, how do journalists follow the impetus to get to the truth of the matter and keep body and mind intact?

There are essential guidelines for journalists working in areas of conflict, and we had some words of wisdom from Rodney Pinder, director of the International News Safety Institute. He spoke to this year’s cohort of Postgraduate Diploma students at Cardiff School of Journalism.

Then there’s the issue of perils closer to home from the Chartered Institute of Journalists. Useful though this is the safety gear designed to make male journalists blend in with crowds of protestors is more likely to draw attention to the women journalists – toughened baseball cap? Kevlar vests? And instructions to keep essential items in the inside pocket of your jacket. Hmm, I must  do a trawl of Cardiff’s ladies’ outfitters to see what’s on offer for the go-getting journo gal, who needs a discreet inside pocket for her audio equipment, video camera and Press card (for flashing at the Police in a crisis).

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust has some sound advice for lone workers, read an excerpt here, the whole booklet’s only £2. It’s important to remember that people can be very unpredictable. Who knows what an innocent button pressed by an inquisitive journalistic question might unleash?

Twitter comes with its own perils as well as some journalistic advantages. How easy it is to answer the “what are you doing now?” question. You might as well put a beacon on your head as the Twittersphere expands apace. Scanning my Tweetdeck I’ve picked up lots of tweets from friends saying, “I’m here, I’ve had several glasses of pop, ooh and here’s a picture of me for easy identification…..”  So handy for someone who’s not impressed with your journalistic enterprise in going after their shadier doings, and wants a very off-the-record conversation.

Enough of the obvious stuff. What about the invisible harm? Years of exposure to suffering and grief, to covering court cases – the details of which never see the light of day as they are too unbearable for the public to endure – must take a mental toll.

At last November’s Engage Conference in Brighton, I saw the images of war that don’t make the press, alongside those that did. The first exhibition, Iraq Through the Lens of Vietnam, was an extraordinary examination of photographic mediation of war. Through what now seem like stock images of the Vietnam war, we followed a path trodden by the embedded photographers. Abu Ghraib, contrasting with the shots of the heroic (US) troops, the sun setting behind their proud silhouettes – contextualised with what now seem to be familiar images of the Vietnam war.

Much of what I saw was taken by embedded photographers. In the comfort of our own homes we are spared the collateral damage pictures – body parts don’t make for a good front page. These were pulled together in the Fabrica show of Thomas Hirschhorn’s The Incommensurable Banner and it came with a health warning. I cannot describe the impact of this giant roll of hundreds and hundreds of images of bodies blasted beyond humanity. Displayed on a roll that implied it could go on forever, it filled the gallery.

Somebody took these pictures. Somebody took these pictures, then took some more, then reviewed them, edited them. I cannot begin to think what effect this must have on the human brain. And where the photographers were, the journalists were too. Can you wrap Kevlar around your mind to protect it?

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One thought on “Take good care of yourself

  1. Good, thought-provoking post Emma. The human costs on those doing the reporting is, and always has been, incalculable … and they do it knowing that only sanitised images/reports will be used.

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