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.

I have a different, but effective, technique: I just tell people straight up what I’m looking for. Some folks will not talk to you, and they have their reasons. Others will be more than happy to help out. Eventually, you’ll find the right people who can open some doors for you. You don’t have to wait for an upcoming trip to develop contacts, either. If there is a region you are interested in, start now.

By talking to various contacts, and trolling open-source media sources, you will begin to vector in on what is interesting and previously unreported. Now you want to develop a general game plan and some basic story ideas. I use loose terms like “general” and “basic” intentionally, because shit changes quickly in a war zone, so be prepared for that. You want a plan and some good points of contact, but you also want enough flexibility built into that plan so that you can shift to the left or right as needed.


There are some great trainers out there, but there is also a lot of boondoggle training going on, especially for journalists. I see some “combat journalism” courses that teach a lot of crap with huge price tags attached. Before heading into a combat zone, the average Joe can certainly benefit from some training—basic combat first-responder stuff at a minimum. This involves things like basic first aid and some entry-level trauma medicine such as how to treat a gunshot wound or an amputated limb. Rather than spend $2,000 to take a course on this, I think most journalists would be better served by seeking out a former Ranger or Special Forces medic (both of which are graduates of the Special Operations Combat Medics School) and throwing him some beer money for a day of medical training.

These days, I’m the editor-in-chief for SOFREP.com, but in another life I was in Army special operations. The lessons I learned there turned out to be a big help in my current job.

I don’t think that reporters really need tactical training, perhaps not any further than knowing how to utilize cover and concealment to avoid getting themselves shot. However, although journalists don’t need to practice the practical application of infantry tactics, learning about them may increase the quality of their reporting. Most veterans roll their eyes at combat reporting because the writer is often devoid of any military knowledge. One of the fastest ways to discredit yourself is to make simple mistakes like writing that the AK-47 fires 5.56mm bullets. If you can’t get the small stuff right, no one is going to trust you to report on the big picture.