War Post: Internet Reporting from the Front Lines

I’d be remiss in writing about war blogging without mentioning an item brought up by TalkingPointsMemo blogger John Marshall yesterday.  In his post titled “Did He Really Just Do That?,”  Marshall points out that by suggesting that Barack Obama may be visiting Iraq over the weekend, John McCain could be putting the candidate’s security in danger.  Of course, while Marshall’s post is insightful and interesting, the story only entered the blogosphere after a MSM outlet (in this case Reuters) first reported and posted the story online.

What about folks who are doing their own citizen reporting from the front lines of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?  People like self-proclaimed “Solo Journalist” Kevin Sites who left a MSM outlet to do his own his own bottom-up reporting for Yahoo news with nothing else but a backpack full of digital equipment?  Clearly, these courageous citizen reporters (and soldiers) are permanently changing the nature of war coverage in ways not seen since Vietnam.

Why they’re doing this is obvious.  Here’s what Sites said regarding his decision to leave a MSM to become a citizen journalist:

“The Internet has incredible power itself,” Sites said. “I went to working for a network that had about 10 million viewers a night on a very good night, ‘Nightly News With Brian Williams,’ and now I have the potential of reaching 400 million people every month. And it’s transnational.

“You know, my audience comes from everywhere in the world, and it also transcends boundaries by age, by country, by gender. The impact that I can have using the Internet and using the multimedia platform could be huge.”

I’m struck by how the arrival of the Internet has created such a contrast in American perception of our two wars in the Middle East.  Although I was only about 13 at the time, I vividly remember seeing General Norman Schwarzkopf on TV releasing incredible images of smart bombs decimating Iraqi targets during the first Gulf War. Without the benefit of widespread use of the Internet and access and bottom-up blog reporting from the front lines, all the world had in 1991 were the clinical and optimistic images the top brass at the Pentagon chose to give us.

Today, things are radically different.  The ubiquity of cell phone cameras, online self-publishing tools, and other networked and miniaturized technologies have removed the filters of control over what we see.  Eighteen years ago, would the world have been exposed to the terrible images of torture that occurred at Abu Ghraib?  Would we have seen the graphic video of Sadaam Hussein being hanged (in this case taken via cell phone camera)?  And what about this video I found of U.S. soldier being saved by the bulletproof glass on his Humvee or this amazing soldier-generated story?  These are all hardly the kinds of things you’d see Generals showing at made-for-TV press conferences. Yet, they’re all things we need to see to form informed decisions about U.S. involvement abroad.

If you’re interested in exploring this topic more, visit this list of the “best war blogs” compiled by Forbes.

UPDATE: Just ran across MajorMan’s blog post on military blogging.  He’s got some great stuff on there on how the military is embracing social media, with links to their use of Twitter and Flickr for outreach.


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