I recently read an extremely pretentious guide to combat journalism filled with nonsensical advice coming from a guy who apparently has never really been in the shit. After breathing a deep sigh and forcing myself not to reach through my computer screen and choke the writer out, I decided I would type up my own guide to combat journalism. Maybe this will benefit others who travel overseas to report on conflicts, or those whose job takes them to some dangerous parts of the world.
There are some great combat journalists out there—guys like Al Venter—who have been at it for decades. I would never presume to tell these folks how to do their job, but there are many young journalist types out there who seem completely lost in the sauce. The young social justice warrior who rolls over to the Middle East to work as a journalist, and whose only flaw is that they just care too much, is a cliche at this point. It is my hope that this guide gives some advice that journalism school teachers are afraid to say out loud, but may prove critical not just to reporting, but to making it back home alive.
While helping some of the SOFREP writers plan an upcoming “deployment,” I told them that it is important to establish contacts and a basic game plan before leaving. Otherwise, you may get to the area of operations and end up sitting in a motel room watching porn on Showtime for five days straight. Initially, you may want to cast a wide net. Some contacts will come through for you on the ground and others will be a bust. Never head out with only one option. You need a plan B and C, not to mention a few contingency plans in case you have to get out of Dodge with the quickness. If one contact falls through and this prevents you from covering the conflict, then it is because of your own piss-poor planning.
So where do you begin to develop some sources and contacts on the ground? These days it is stupid easy to cast your wide net and begin talking to people using social media. I’ve been fortunate to have previous experience in the Middle East from my time in the Army, which gives me a head start, but that isn’t enough. Everyone is on social media these days, the good guys and bad guys in any war. There are many different techniques to begin developing sources, and some journalists use lots of chicanery.