Friday, August 26, 2005

Journalism 101

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that I'm a big fan of the work of Michael Yon, the freelance journalist who's produced some of the best--and most vivid coverage--of combat operations in Iraq.

Yon's latest is an instant classic. It details a close-quarters fight in Mosul that resulted in the wounding of two senior members of the 1st Battalion 24th Infantry (Deuce Four), the unit that Yon has followed for almost eight months. One of the soldiers wounded in last week's battle was Lt Col Erik Kurilla, the Battalion Commander. Kurilla is a legend among his soldiers, Iraqi security forces, and the civilian populace in Mosul. When he was shot last week, Kurilla was leading the charge, chasing suspected terrorists down streets and alleyways. Despite a gunshot wound that snapped his femur, Lt Col Kurilla remained in the fight until the suspects were arrested.

In reporting Kurilla's injuries, the Seattle Times compliments Yon's coverage, noting that his dispatches "often describe the details and tactics of the Iraq War not found in mainstream media coverage. " That is an understatement.

But it begs a basic question: why? Yon is covering the Iraq War on his own dime, and relys in part on contributions from readers. Why can't the Seattle Times, New York Times, Washington Post, NBC News, or some other MSM outlet do what Yon has done--follow units over a period of time, and report the nitty gritty of the Iraq conflict?

Confronted with that issue, news editors and executives often talk about the cost, or the need to cover "broader" issues. But there are some unspoken issues at work here, too. First of all, few journalists are willing to emulate Yon's example. In earlier reports, Yon wrote about Army Command Sergeatn Major Jeffrey Mellinger, the senior enlisted soldier in Iraq. CSM Mellinger travels around Iraq by himself in a HUMVEE, and he has invited several journalists to accompany him on his travels. So far, Yon is the only reporter to accept CSM Mellinger's offer.

Secondly, positive stories about soldiers in battle, defeating the enemy, don't fit the MSM agenda, and its relentless criticism of the Iraq War. That's why you won't read or see stories about men like CSM Mellinger or Lt Col Kurilla in the MSM.

When I was a student in News Reporting 101, I was taught to get the story, whatever it took. Today's journalists have learned a different lesson; better to cover a war from your hotel in the green zone, lest you stumble across a story that doesn't suit your agenda.

1 comment:

Clay said...

it's simple really - it comes down to drive, determination, and willingness to accept risk.

the MSM today has drive and determination - to be armchair quarterbacks, that is. Risk to them is being late for their hatchet-job planning session, or missing the 10:20 Orange Line on the Metro in DC.

Mike Yon SHOULD be given an award or 2; a Pulitzer and then somehting from the nation for being the FOREMOST reporter over there.