November 28, 2007

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

The Story Changes

Conditions Deteriorate

Most journalists surveyed believe their job has gotten harder. Despite current accounts in the press that the surge and alliances with tribal leaders are helping decrease violence, U.S. journalists there say over a broader length of time the violence and threat of violence has made reporting from Iraq more difficult. Eight-in-ten journalists (79%) believe conditions have deteriorated for reporters since their own first posting in the country. Barely one in ten (8%) say that conditions have remained the same and only 2% say conditions for reporters have improved.           

“It is dangerous and frustrating,” a broadcast editor wrote. “You want to go out and cover stories, but you cannot because of the threat of kidnapping or worse. It’s hard to hear commentators back home say, ‘The media isn’t covering the full story.’ Well, there’s a reason for that, and it’s not bias. And when journalists cannot cover a playground being rebuilt because it’s too dangerous to travel around the city, then that playground is not the primary story.”

The Story Changes

Journalists also say that over time the story their news organizations have been interested in has changed, often in ways that reflect how the domestic debate in the United States has shifted.  About two-thirds of the journalists surveyed (67%) say their news organizations now show greater interest in reports on U.S. military strategy, compared with 12 months ago. At the same time, a clear but somewhat smaller majority (62%) say their editors have a shrinking interest in stories on day-to-day violence. 

The largest shift came in regard to coverage of private contractors. Fully 79% report new interest from their editors in covering the role of these contractors. (The survey was conducted in October and early November, shortly after guards employed by the private security firm Blackwater USA were accused of killing 17 Iraqis.) Substantial numbers of journalists also say that their news organizations have shown less interest in general background stories about life in Iraq (41%) over the last year, and in stories on Iraq’s economy (37%).  

Reporters were divided over whether interest in what Iraqis think about the U.S. military is up or down – 22% say interest at their news organizations in these stories has grown and a similar number (25%) say it has declined. Interest in Iraqi political developments is, overall, reported to be slightly higher than a year ago.