Module JG140

Embedded Journalism
 

Module author

Tanni Haas

City University of New York
USA

Learning objectives After studying this module, you will be able to:
  • Define embedded journalism and explain the collaboration of journalism and military;
  • Explain the reasons for this concept;
  • Give an overview of the historic development of embedded journalism, including key persons who established this genre;
  • Reflect embedded journalism critically.
Study point 1
Reading extract Embedded Journalism

 

Why Open School of Journalism believes that embedded journalism is important zu know

Embedded journalism refers to the practice of placing a journalist with a military unit in order to allow that journalist to provide media coverage of military action in the midst of areas of conflict or directly inside a war zone.

When embedding first began

Restricted embedded journalism began during the Persian Gulf War. Journalists and media outlets were frustrated by their inability to provide news coverage of the conflict; they were often forced to cover events long after they were concluded. Some journalists asked to travel with military units and were granted permission to do so, although most of the resulting coverage had to be approved by the military before reaching the public in order to protect military assets and tactics. Thus a very controlled amount of media coverage was attained, but the results were unsatisfactory.

The US Department of Defense realized the benefit of having journalists embedded with the military and eventually developed a set of ground rules for embedded journalists. During the invasion of Iraq, embedded journalism was expanded to allow over 600 reporters to travel with military units. These journalists initially went through a mini-boot camp to prepare for the conditions under which they would be working. They were taught basic survival skills, received training on battlefield first aid and learned military terminology.

Rules of embedded journalists

War correspondents traveling with military units for the US military are given reasonable restrictions as to how their media coverage is executed in order to protect the troops with whom they travel. For example, interviews with pilots are often restricted to be undertaken at the completion of a particular mission rather than at the outset. Use of flash photography or other lighting is often restricted at night for the safety of the troops as well as the journalist. Correspondents who fail to follow the ground rules may be immediately removed from embedment with the military unit with their embedment canceled.

Benefits of embedding journalists

Embedding journalists is currently viewed as an advantageous method to protect journalists from being the target of sniper attacks by enemy forces. In past engagements, some reporters were deliberately targeted due to disagreement with the media coverage they had presented. During the years 2003-2009 of the Iraq conflict, 7 embedded journalists were killed in action as contrasted with 132 deaths of non-embedded journalists.

Embedding also allows journalists to gain access deep into the heart of a military access. They witness the events unfolding at that moment in time. This immediacy in media coverage, as well as access to areas where journalists formerly would not have been allowed to venture, are both additional positive results of the practice.

Embedded journalists are able to interview military leaders and soldiers on the spot in order to get immediate and honest reactions to the events taking place during the engagement.

Journalists embedded in the field are also provided access in military war craft as opposed to following along behind a military unit on the ground. Some journalists have been given the opportunity to fly in helicopters, flying right into the action as it occurs. This changes their perspective on the events unfolding before their eyes.

Negative aspects of embedment practices

One of the major criticisms of embedded reporting is the increased risk of inherent bias that naturally develops when the journalists are spending day and night with a particular military unit. Although it appears that journalists can safely cover news events from deep within the battle theater, they are actually operating from within an umbrella of safety provided by the military unit with whom they are traveling. Feelings of camaraderie naturally flow from risking one's life on a daily basis with one's comrades, and this is the same with embedded journalists. There also is the danger of loss of objectivity, as the embedded journalists are witnessing the combat zone from only one side of the military engagement.

Finally, the military can use the media for propaganda purposes. The embedded journalists are restricted to seeing what the military wants them to see: in other words, they may be given access to particular events the military wants to receive media coverage.

Do embedded journalists compromise military efforts?

War correspondents traveling with military units for the US military are given reasonable restrictions as to how their media coverage is executed in order to protect the troops with whom they travel. For example, interviews with pilots are often restricted to be undertaken at the completion of a particular mission rather than at the outset. Use of flash photography or other lighting is often restricted at night for the safety of the troops as well as the journalist. Correspondents who fail to follow the ground rules may be immediately removed from their placement with the military unit and their embedment canceled as a result.

Is embedded journalism the only way to cover military engagements?

In this age of satellite coverage, media outlets are able to provide almost instantaneous broadcasts of events around the world. This immediate access to breaking news has increased the public's desire to witness events as they unfold. Embedded journalism is one way to reduce the peril faced by journalists desiring to provide up-to-the-minute coverage of military engagements as it provides them with some sort of safety net. The dangers faced by embedded journalists are not entirely eliminated by providing military protection, however, as journalists covering the news have perished alongside their military companions.

Allowing embedded journalists to broadcast live from war zones removes some of the perception held by members of the public that news coverage in general is manipulated in order to present a slanted point of view. It is believed that allowing embedded reporters to provide coverage on the spot removes some of the bias that may result when news broadcasts are overly edited in order to present a desired position, rather than presenting the actual news as it occurred. Embedding journalists also has been proven as a way to minimize media casualties, as they receive a higher level of protection from enemy snipers. Placing embedded journalists in military units seems the best way to provide immediate coverage of breaking news from the military theater.