November 28, 2007

Journalists in Iraq - A Survey of Reporters on the Front Lines

Quality of Coverage

Overall, journalists working in Iraq give their own coverage a mixed but generally positive assessment. A majority (58%) regard press coverage in Iraq as “good,” the second-highest mark.

Another 16% rate the coverage as excellent.

But nearly a quarter (23%) rate the coverage as only fair. Another 2% grade the coverage as poor.

Whatever the overall assessment, these journalists think they have covered some aspects of the story more effectively than others.

The Iraq press corps gives the highest marks to coverage of American troops. Eight-in-ten of the journalists (82%) rate the reporting on that topic as excellent or good.

“The press has been well placed and well equipped to cover the war from the point of view of the American military,” an editor at a broadcast outlet commented. A magazine correspondent elaborated, “The work of many embedded reporters was very good in the initial years of the occupation, and though the focus has shifted necessarily to political developments, many still turn out sterling work from military assignments.”

The second-highest marks came for coverage of the war against insurgents. Nearly two thirds of the journalists surveyed (62%) rate the coverage of that aspect of the story in Iraq as excellent or good.

The journalists are not as praiseworthy of their coverage of efforts to prevent civil war (44% excellent or good) or to rebuild the country (36% excellent or good).

Their lowest marks, however, are for coverage of the lives of ordinary Iraqis. A large majority of journalists (62%) regard that coverage as only fair to poor.

“There are too few reports that include Iraqi citizens – not Green Zone politicians but regular folks,” offered one TV journalist. “We need to hear their voices.”

“Suffering of ordinary Iraqis and the impact the war has had on average citizens”-that’s what the press has not covered particularly well, according to a newspaper correspondent.

“The daily attacks now seem to be covered pretty well, but generally lack the sort of context that puts them in perspective for readers,” according to a print reporter. “The greatest tragedy of the war has been how the media has in some way bored its audience with the violence.”

The journalists also considered some subjects to have been under covered and others to have been over covered.

When asked to volunteer their priorities, the largest number of journalists (40%) volunteered that the conflict’s impact on Iraqi civilians was the most “under covered” story. In particular, the journalists surveyed mentioned the plight of the several million internally displaced Iraqis, Shiite versus Shiite violence in southern Iraq and events occurring virtually everywhere outside Baghdad. They also mentioned a lack of coverage of smaller towns and the day-to-day life of the population.

Which Stories do you think are Under Covered?

%

Impact on Iraqi civilians

42

Contractors

17

Economic problems/infrastructure

16

Iraqi politics

15

Failure to report Iraqi viewpoints

7

Sectarian conflicts

7

U.S. military strategy

7

Waste/corruption/crime

7

Events outside Baghdad

4

Refugees

4

Failure to know what U.S. troops are doing

3

Consequences of war

2

Insurgency

2

Mistakes/shortcomings of U.S. policy/action

2

Power of militias

2

Others*

1

None

1

No answer

15

Note: Total may exceed 100% due to multiple responses *For full list of stories, see topline at the end of this report; Survey Q: Of the types of stories listed in the previous question and any others, which of these would you say is the most under covered right now?

The second most-mentioned as a topic that was under covered was the role of private contractors in Iraq (17% of the journalists volunteered this), followed by economic issues (16%) and Iraqi politics (12%). “There is a focus on the insurgency, militias, the drama of warfare, but not enough about the people – and it is ultimately the people and what (they) are going through that readers/viewers ideally relate to,” wrote a newspaper reporter.

“The coverage has been ethnocentric. There is not enough attention to the plight of the Iraqis,” offered another.

When asked what if anything had received too much coverage, the list of topics volunteered was smaller, and the numbers of journalists offering them not as great, but it tracked with the same topics journalists had described as covered well. The largest number (29%) name news about U.S. military strategy as over covered. That was followed day-to-day violence (21%).

“There’s been too much coverage of the American military ‘surge’ and too much emphasis on framing stories in terms of the surge,’” one newspaper correspondent wrote.

Which Stories do you think are Over Covered?
%
U.S. military strategy 29
Day-to-day violence, events 21
Contractors 10
Visits or statements by elected officials 7
Iraqi politics 6
Anbar Awakening/deals with sheiks 6
Sectarian conflicts 2
Consequences of war on U.S. politics 2
Failure to correct official statements 1
Involvement of other countries – Iran 1
Contractors – private security 1
Elected officials/high ranking military 1
Iraqi views on U.S. military 1
None 22
Don’t know/not sure 2
No answer 19
Note: Total may exceed 100% due to multiple responses* For full list of stories, see topline at the end of this report; Survey Q: Of the types of stories listed in the previous question and any others, which of these would you say is the most under covered right now?

And a sizable minority of journalists surveyed (22%) say the war is so important that nothing is over covered.

“It’s the biggest story of our time,” said one print bureau chief. “Nothing can be under covered in Iraq,” echoed a broadcast editor. “There need to be more people and more coverage,” said another bureau chief. “Even U.S. military public affairs officers outside of Baghdad complain about lack of press attention,” one magazine reporter added.