Embedded journalism was the focus of a session at the lit fest
“I have not met any serious reporters who call themselves ‘war correspondent’,” said senior journalist Jason Burke in a session on war reportage, at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Sunday.
“It is not a technical term for a specialised profession but more like a Hollywood-generated sub-genre,” he said.
The session, titled ‘Dispatches,’ moderated by journalist Madhu Trehan, focused on how journalists turned dispatches from the war zone into voluminous books.
“Writing a book is much more intellectually fulfilling and allows you to explore deeper the subjects that you are covering,” said Mr. Burke.
What motivated one to write a book? Was it because it accorded reporters an opportunity to get their opinions across on a subject they had been covering, or because it provided them with an opportunity to use all the material they had gathered and were not able to put it in their stories?
“It is a bit of everything, but mostly it fulfils an instinctive need to react to what you see and read. When I read books about the al-Qaeda, I found they were different than what I saw on the ground and so I wanted to react to it in the contrarian journalistic way by writing my own book about it,” he said.
Edward Girardet, author of Killing the cranes: A reporter’s journey through three decades of war in Afghanistan, spoke about embedded journalism and objectivity in journalism.
“I personally don’t believe in an objective journalist. What one should aim at is to be an honest journalist,” he said.
Embedded journalism, he said, was not a new thing and Winston Churchill, former British Prime Minister, used to write as a correspondent while serving as a military officer.
“My problem with embedding these days is that they make you sign a contract as they don’t want a journalist dying on their watch. But then it basically becomes a very controlled activity,” said Mr. Girardet.
Lucy Morgan Edwards, who wrote The Afghan solution: the inside Story of Abdul Haq, the CIA and how Western Hubris Lost Afghanistan after reporting from the country for over six years, said women journalists enjoyed a position of privilege.
“While war reporting is often a masculine area, being a woman gives you certain advantages. For instance, you have access to the other 50 per cent of the Afghan population that your male colleagues don’t,” said Ms. Edwards.
Anjan Sundaram, who has reported from Africa for The New York Times, said it was very important to trust locals, especially expatriates, to break into closed spaces and gather information.
Asked about their view on Gonzo journalism, which was popularised by American journalist Hunter Thompson, the panellists said it was popular at a specific time in history.
“Gonzo journalism is more like journalism as an extreme sport rather than a profession,” said Mr. Burke.