The Dangerous New Calculus of Conflict Reporting

Ben Solomon/GlobalPost. Pro-European protesters face off against pro-Russian supporters in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kharkiv in February 2014.
Ben Solomon/GlobalPost. Pro-European protesters face off against pro-Russian supporters in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kharkiv in February 2014.

By reporting from far-flung war-torn corners of the world, GlobalPost is already known for telling stories that give voice to individual experiences in conflict zones — now they are looking to do more, by hiring an experienced conflict correspondent. For a period of sixteen months, this journalist will work to get first-hand stories from some of the world’s most violent places.

So what does it mean to do conflict reporting? Why is it important, and what commodities do conflict journalists need in order to do their jobs? We asked Patrick Winn, GlobalPost's Senior Correspondent, to talk to us about it; he wrote to us from Bangkok.

“Conflict reporter.” The words evoke journalists crouching next to bullet-pocked walls, shrapnel whizzing overheard, as they breathlessly narrate an attack. 

Sometimes conflict reporters do that. But they’re more likely to be making nice with strange men who say they can maybe get them to the action, or at least lead them to refugees who’ve witnessed horrific violence.

Twenty-first-century combat is a different beast from last century’s major wars. It is, in many ways, far messier and harder to untangle. It’s often waged by militants who don’t wear uniforms and avoid squaring up on traditional battlefields. They bring conflict to nightclubs and tea shops. They pair old-school ambitions, like conquering territory, with new-school tactics: demoralizing the enemy with gory photos on Twitter.

Most people flee war. Those rushing in have their own agendas. It usually doesn’t include sheltering, feeding, and watching the backs of reporters. Covering it is not a daily thrill ride. It’s hard work, an arduous exercise in logistics.

Mark Oltmanns/GlobalPost. Buddhist militiamen train at a shooting range in southern Thailand — a region plagued by Southeast Asia’s bloodiest insurgency.
Mark Oltmanns/GlobalPost. Buddhist militiamen train at a shooting range in southern Thailand — a region plagued by Southeast Asia’s bloodiest insurgency.

Combat coverage is also a massive head game. Journalists, as we know well, are increasingly finding ourselves in the crosshairs. You have to know which tip-offs to follow, which are spin, and which could be a trap, costing you your career or even your life. Meanwhile, many correspondents risking themselves to bring us these vital stories are paid less than a Foot Locker cashier. 

For the record: I’m not a “conflict reporter” of the caliber that routinely wades into nightmares unfolding in places such as Syria or the Central African Republic. But in my seven years as a Southeast Asia correspondent, I’ve covered guerrilla rebellions in Myanmar, an Islamic insurgency in Thailand’s deep south, and bloody confrontations in Bangkok where both sides opened fire.

Conflict reporters are often called “fearless” or “brave,” and those are excellent qualities. But neither can make up for the two most important commodities in conflict journalism: time and money. Both are hard to come by from modern media outlets, which like news produced fast and cheap, regardless of what the public needs. 

Marc Hofer/GlobalPost. Rebels in Sudan's Nuba mountains have fought for years to replace the Khartoum government with one more tolerant of the country's ethnic and religious diversity, and more willing to share its oil and other resources evenly.
Marc Hofer/GlobalPost. Rebels in Sudan's Nuba mountains have fought for years to replace the Khartoum government with one more tolerant of the country's ethnic and religious diversity, and more willing to share its oil and other resources evenly.

Producing that series on Thailand’s insurgency, called “Red Light Jihad,” was neither fast nor cheap. It required lots of time to gain the trust of separatists, militias, sex workers, and others hardwired to distrust strangers — particularly those carrying big cameras and asking hard questions.

But money is even more crucial. Conflict ratchets up the cost of everything, especially services journalists need, such as hotels, translators, and drivers. You may find drivers willing to take you through a war zone, but they’ll demand (and deserve) a premium. 

More expensive still are “fixers,” the unsung heroes of journalism, who open doors to key players. Bearing witness to conflict can win awards for journalists; it only brings fixers close to danger, with no promise of grandeur. Yet when trouble strikes in the field — harassment by police and militias, for example — journalists often rely on fixers to pull strings and make the problem go away. Fixers have prevented me from getting arrested in Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. The good ones are not cheap.

Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost. Tank fire hits a Syrian rebel post in Aleppo in late 2012, killing Issa Aiash, 30, his young brother Ahmed, 17, and Sheihk Mamoud, 42.
Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost. Tank fire hits a Syrian rebel post in Aleppo in late 2012, killing Issa Aiash, 30, his young brother Ahmed, 17, and Sheihk Mamoud, 42.

Without solid conflict reporting, we’re left with propaganda. Rather than illuminating the world’s conflicts, major broadcasters often prefer to broadcast political gossip, or focus the lens on celebrity anchors and misleading good-versus-evil narratives.

Conflict reporters are the world’s eyes and ears on the battlefield. Their job is to remind of war’s ugliness, to go beyond the propaganda and show us what's really happening where bombs strike and bullets fly.  They’re the ones who can call out atrocities and shame those who perpetrate them.

The world’s conflicts are only getting messier and we need conflict reporters more than ever. Let’s make sure we keep funding them to make it to the front lines and tell the world what they’ve seen.

Talking Shop: Getting Started in Podcasting

Everyone seems to be doing podcasts nowadays, but what does it take to get one started? Last week, we hosted a panel of five podcast producers on this exact topic. The panelists included Hillary Frank (host of The Longest Shortest Time), Benjamin Walker (host of Theory of Everything), Farai Chideya (host of One With Farai), Jaime Green (host of The Catapult), and it was moderated by PJ Vogt. 

Some of the discussion points included getting a show started, the creative freedom the medium allows (you can do anything you want!), and why growing your audience can be a slow but ultimately satisfying endeavor.

The Process: Printing a Book

In the 1960's, the signage within the NYC subway system was a total mess. The Transit Authority hired a design firm to come up with a solution, and thus the Graphics Standards Manual was born. It was a 3-ring binder loaded with pages that would dictate every minute detail of transit signage moving forward. Only so many copies were made, and most of them were ultimately lost or destroyed.

Not long ago, Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth discovered an original copy of the Graphics Standards Manual in a gym locker. They scanned it, shared the scans online, and the site became so popular that they decided to reissue the manual as a hardcover book. We asked Jesse and Hamish to give us some background, and explain the process of printing a book.

Tech Weekly: Pop and Lock

Our Technology category is home to the things the future is made of. This week we saw some mind-bendingly advanced stuff — from teen-made exoskeletons to skeleton keys. We hope you enjoy these cool and curious projects as much as we do.

Sesame. Your key, reinvented.

When your door lock is smart, your phone is your key. The Sesame installs in seconds and fits over just about any deadbolt. Then just download the Sesame app, and pop that lock from anywhere.

AJAX Exosuit: Wearable powered exoskeleton

What does this group of high school kids have in common with Tony Stark? If you said the construction of an advanced exoskeleton capable of lifting many times their body weight, you'd be right. The Amplified Juggernaut Assistance Exoskeleton, or AJAX, will debut at the Bay Area Maker Faire this May.

Ringo – The palm size robot with real personality!

Sensors like an accelerometer and gyroscope help Ringo recognize stimuli, responding with LEDs and chirps. Plus, it's fully programmable and you don't have to clean up after it, making it just about the perfect pet.

Qduino Mini: Arduino Compatible + Battery Charger & Monitor

The Qduino Mini is an itty-bitty Arduino-compatible board, and the first of its size to include a battery charger circuit and monitor. Use it to make all kinds of cool little things, like a binary clock, electronic dice, or an alarm that goes off when you burn your grilled cheese probably.

Fly12 Cycling Accessory | 1080p Camera & Front Light Combo

After funding last year's Fly6 rear-facing camera on Kickstarter, the Cycliq team has returned to bring you the forward-looking Fly12. The Fly12 illuminates your path with a 400 lumen front-light, and records where you're going with a 1080p camera — packing six to ten hours of run time in a single charge.

Oh, and in case their project wasn't cool enough, the Cycliq team also shared this video of some gnarly bike crashes. Remember folks, always wear a helmet.

Celebrating Great Children's Books

Every week, we see great children's books get funded on Kickstarter. In honor of Publishing Month, we though we'd share a few of our favorites, past and present, with you.

Hello Ruby by Linda Liukas

Linda Liukas connected with more than nine thousand backers to make Hello Ruby, a gorgeous illustrated children's book about technology. Ruby has adventures, makes friends with Snow Leopard and a cute penguin, and helps teach kids basic programming skills along the way. The book will be published by Macmillan in October.

Horace the Eighth and the Great Marvellos by Helena Marlinspike

Horace is the youngest member in a circus family, and he's looking for his hidden talents. He's small, and shy, and not the most coordinated, but it turns out he's rather special after all. The illustrations are rich and the story is one of personal triumph — what's not to love? 

Furqan's First Flat Top by Robert Catalino Trujillo

An Image from Furqan's First Flat Top
An Image from Furqan's First Flat Top

Furqan's First Flat Top is a bilingual picture book about a boy getting his first haircut. The author/illustrator, Robert Catalino Trujillo, says "I want to reflect some of the children and families I see; I love children’s books and think diverse stories like this one need to be seen. As a parent, I understand the importance of encouraging reading at an early age, and this book will be in both Spanish and English, as I know the positive impact it can have when children are exposed to more than one language."

Wee Beasties by Andi Smith

The Wee Dragon
The Wee Dragon

Dreamscarred Press published Andi Smith's Wee Beasties, a must-have book for any hardcore geek with kids (or nieces and nephews!) It's a bedtime story about baby versions of the monsters that typically populate dungeons and maul adventurers in Dungeons & Dragons, such as the Wee Cyclops and the Wee Troll. If you look carefully, there's a D20 on each page.

Wollstonecraft by Jordan Stratford

Jordan Stratford wrote Wollstonecraft, an illustrated steampunk book for kids 8-12, in which he invents an alternate history where Ada Lovelace (the world’s first computer programmer) and Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) meet as girls and form a secret detective agency. It was just published under the title The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Random House Kids this month.

Grandmother Fish by Jonathan Tweet

Jonathan Tweet rallied over 1000 backers to help him make Grandmother Fish, a beautifully illustrated book about evolution for pre-schoolers. The interactive text encourages kids to get involved, asking them if they can wiggle like a fish or hoot like an ape.

Peter Pan and Wendy by Allen Morris

Sometimes an old story deserves new illustrations to bring it to life for another generation. Allen Morris created 50 new images for this well-loved story. 

This is just a small sample of the wonderful children's book projects that have been made with the help of our community. There are over one hundred children's book projects live on the site now, so maybe you'll find your next favorite kids' book here!

20 Questions with Children's Book Author Laura Numeroff

If you were a child born in 1985 or later, you probably learned about the idea of cause and effect by reading a little book called If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. With four million copies in circulation, it's safe to say that it's a children's book classic. Now the book's author, Laura Numeroff, is now working on a new series all about dogs with jobs, called Work for Biscuits. The first book in the series, Raising a Herohas one day left to go.  

In order to get to know a bit more about her world, we asked Laura to answer 20 questions. In the process we started to really want a soda, learned about an amazing arts day in NC, and realized that the trees in Los Angeles actually do turn colors in the fall.

Tell us about the last great meal you had: 

Cheeseburger, french fries, and a diet Coke! Perfection! Burger was grilled, fries were slightly crispy, and the Diet Coke had just the right amount of syrup and fizz!

First movie you saw in the theater: 

Snow White! Scared the crap out of me!

How do you start each morning? 

Wishing I didn’t have to get out of bed!

Music you loved as a teenager:

Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Phil Ochs, Richie Havens, The Beatles, Sonny and Cher, and The Rolling Stones, any sixties British band, including Gerry and the Pacemakers!

What do you carry with you every day? 

My phone, (although I often forget to charge it! Aaargh), a little Moleskin notepad and a Flair pen and Orbit Cinnamon gum.

Favorite place to eat: 

My sister Emily’s house! She’s a great cook, plus I’m eating with my best friend! It’s a “two-fer”!

Place you wish everyone could visit: 

Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Last idea or factoid you came across that stayed in your brain: 

I know this isn’t exactly an idea or factoid, but this quote has stayed in my brain. “Dogs aren’t our whole lives, but they make our lives whole.”

Person in your field whose career/life/work you admire: 

Hilary Thompson, illustrator of Eloise.

Favorite thing about the place you live: 

Even though I’m in Los Angeles, the trees around me turn red and yellow in the fall, so I feel like I’m not in Los Angeles! (Another “two-fer”!)

Favorite time of day and why: 

Whenever I don’t have writer’s block, is my favorite time of day!

What’s your computer desktop/phone lock screen?

Michelle Obama, and her daughters, reading an oversized copy of IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE at the White House Easter Roll!

Last thing you made: 

Bookmarks with kids at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

An experience you’ll never forget:

Two art teachers in North Carolina created Very Special Arts Day, for kids with disabilities. Every year they based creative activities on children’s books — Dr. Seuss, Where the Wild Things Are — and had them spread all over a high school football field. They asked me if they could use my If You Give series for the upcoming event! The day of the event, over 600 kids with disabilities arrived and sat with 400 high school volunteers in the bleachers waiting for the activities to begin. They were all wearing a t-shirt that had a drawing of my characters that were drawn by a young boy with cerebral palsy. The volunteers wore red, and the kids wore blue ones.

A marching band paraded around the field. Following the band was a person in the mouse costume, another person in the pig costume, high school girls wearing chocolate chip cookie costumes, and then me in a tricked out red Camaro, bringing up the rear, like the Little Red Caboose!

Driving slowly past the bleachers, waving to the crowd, who waved and cheered back, got me seriously choked up. To start off the official events, a little boy with Downs Syndrome sang, “I’ll Fly Away”. He was so excited to be on stage and applauded that we couldn’t get him offstage! Then the boy with cerebral palsy, who designed the t-shirts, sang “This Land is Your Land,” and that moment was when I was sorry I had worn mascara!

Afterwards, the kids and volunteers poured onto the field, visiting various booths to play games and do craft activities based on my books. There was ‘Make a Mouse Macaroni Necklace’, ‘Moose Muffin Toss’, ‘Pig Paper Planes’, and so many more brilliantly inventive games and activities. It was truly the best day of my life.

Six Hours in Pebble Time

A lot can happen in six hours. You can fly from New York City to San Francisco. You can watch The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. Or, if you’re the Pebble team, you can announce your new smartwatch and raise $5 million. Here's how it went down:

At 9:44 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, Pebble Time launched on Kickstarter.

At 10:00 a.m. news of the launch broke. Medium published this in-depth, behind-the-scenes piece.

At 10:17 a.m. the project was successfully funded, hitting its goal of $500,000 in about 32 minutes.

At 10:32 a.m. the project's funding total hit $1 million dollars, making it the fastest project ever to hit that milestone.

By 10:33 a.m. Pebble’s founder Eric Migicovsky was unapologetically tweeting about momentarily breaking Kickstarter. (Thanks a lot Eric.)

By 10:51 a.m. both Pebble Time and Kickstarter were trending on Twitter.

By 1:52 p.m. 600 comments had been left by backers on the project page. One of our favorites was this amazing time-lapse.

At 2:26 p.m. Pebble Time exceeded $5 million. The previous fastest to $5 million? Coolest Cooler, which took over a week (7 days 6 hours) to hit that mark.

It’s now 3:44 p.m. EST and Pebble Time has been live for exactly six hours. They’ve raised over $5.5 million and gathered a community of over 27,000 early adopters.

We’re astounded at what Pebble Time has been able to accomplish in just six hours. We can’t wait to see what they do with the next 31 days.

Making Major Progress on Net Neutrality

If you’ve been following the debate over Net Neutrality, which we’ve been talking about in this space and others since last summer, you know that a remarkable, inspiring, and kinda crazy thing happened: We won!

Well, almost. Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his plan to put forward strong Net Neutrality rules, including the crucial Title II reclassification that we’ve been pushing for all along. We’re so glad that our government is doing what it’s supposed to do: listening to us, and to you, and to the millions of people who filed comments. We’ve made clear that the Internet needs to be open and free — a place where people can say and see what they want, a place that isn’t divided into fast and slow lanes. Even President Obama agreed

And so the FCC listened. But, as you might imagine, the cable companies aren’t happy. And they’re still trying to get the FCC to change the plan before the vote on February 26. It’s important that we all rally behind the Chairman’s proposal until the final t’s are crossed and i’s dotted. The devil is in the details, after all, and the FCC needs to include some important technical specifics in its final proposal.

Title II reclassification is essential because it gives the FCC authority to adopt good rules, but it isn’t enough. The rules themselves have to be really good. Without bright-line rules against discrimination and also against zero-rating, the big, incumbent companies will still have an unfair advantage.

In these last few days, let’s make sure that the FCC guarantees real Net Neutrality — without any loopholes. You can speak out on your own social networks, by filing a comment directly with the FCC, using Tumblr’s tool to call your representative or joining Demand Progress’ Battle for the Net. See, you’re free to use whatever website you like! Let’s make sure it stays that way.