The high cost of news


The old year ends with yet more murderous fury against innocent victims who in the dull and distorted gaze of their killers are targets simply because of who they are. Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) has proudly claimed the latest Kabul suicide bombing in which at least 40 Afghans were blown to pieces and over 80 were maimed, many for life.

The Tebyan Cultural center hit by the suicide bombers housed the Afghan Voice news agency, a small group of journalists who have insisted on trying to tell the truth about the horrors gripping Afghanistan.

But terrorism has no time for objectivity. Truth for the killers in the shadows is only what they believe. The bigot acknowledges no facts that do not support his bloodlust.

It may seem an odd conclusion but 2017 has been a relatively good year for journalists. Just 80 of them have been killed in war zones, compared with 122 last year. Indeed in recent years the number of reporters who died in conflicts has never fallen below 110. These people perished because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time or because they were deliberately targeted by gunmen.

Once upon a time, there was a perverse glamor to the job title “war correspondent”. Even though the realities of war, of death and horrific injuries were just as obscene, the highly-paid staff journalists who could witness and report honestly on the savagery held a respected position. They even enjoyed some degree of protection.

But two things have happened in the last few decades. The Internet and social media have created the so-called citizen reporter, often less interested in accuracy than retailing the latest rumor as quickly as possible. Professional reporters watch the tens of thousands of messages because within them there will be truths. But it takes a thorough knowledge of a particular conflict to winnow out the few grains of facts from the immense amounts of downright inaccurate chaff.

But the second development has been no less important. The big international news organizations with their big budgets and determination to spend whatever it takes to get the story and get it right are fast dying out. Printed newspapers are losing readers and thus advertisers. The broadcast media, which once seemed the principle threat to the printed news, are themselves being undermined by the Internet, by social media pages where advertisers can directly target their customers. Look up a product online and within hours an advert for that item will be appearing on your social media page.

Thus unable to afford the big battalions of famous war reporters, all the media are turning to the far cheaper and more flexible alternative - the freelance reporter. To turn in stories these predominantly young and thus aspiring individuals are prepared to work all hours for generally low fees with no expense accounts. They are also ready to take risks to stand out in a crowded and ambitious freelance market. This certainly accounts in part for the high casualty rates. And the final irony is that thanks to their own brave efforts, the staff jobs of which they dream are becoming fewer and fewer.