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Source: LIRE Online (Journalists at War, Media coverage of post-Cold War conflicts)

No more macho men? Women in the front line


"This may be sexist but I do think women report differently. I don't know anything about weapons. Macho male journalists will sit around saying, 'That was a 62mm mortar' or 'That was a Kalashnikov semi-automatic.' Well I know what a Kalashnikov is but I'm just not interested in guns. I'm interested in people and how they live, how war affects children and how people manage to survive."27

By bringing home the human story are women war reporters changing the face of war reporting? Most women war reporters would probably agree that women report war differently from most of their male colleagues, concentrating less on what ITN's Penny Marshall calls the "bang-bang" element than on the human dimension.28 According to Maggie O'Kane, whose intensely personal coverage of the war won her the title of Journalist of the Year in the 1993 What the Papers Say awards, women concentrate more on what is happening to people: "There are a number of men who write about the war in a very human way but I think I can say that all the women do that."29 Janine di Giovanni explained why her reporting from Sarajevo was deliberately focused on the war's human casualties: "I do it because I'm at my best writing about human suffering. I don't get off on guns. Some guys do. They say that war is better than sex. I am not like that. I need to get emotional about a story. It makes me a better writer. It enables me to get inside the story."30

There is nothing new about female war reporters, and nor about their preference for reporting on the human aspect of war. From the veteran correspondent, Martha Gellhorn, who covered the Spanish civil war, to Marina Warner, who covered Vietnam, and Corinne Dufka, who covered Bosnia, women have been reporting wars and emphasising the human costs.31 However, what is new is that this sort of war reporting seems to have come into its own and achieved an unprecedented influence in the 1990s. For example, the war in former Yugoslavia attracted female reporters in unprecedented numbers and the impact made by their particular style of reporting was arguably greater than that made by any number of their male colleagues.

Is this seachange the result of changes in the attitudes and organisation of the news media? Or does it reflect a transformation of the news agenda and the priorities of news organisations? Journalists at War will investigate whether the feminisation of war reporting is a consequence of more women being involved in the profession or a reflection of a shifting preference for this style of reporting? Is it not the case that male reporters have also tended to focus on the human dimension of recent conflicts? Is there something about the times in which we are living that puts more value on a more "feminine" style of war reporting? There certainly seems to be a perception that journalists covering recent conflicts have been bringing home the human story more than ever before.

Journalists at War will consider whether women war reporters have been confronted by particular problems, both in terms of their relations with their news organisations and in terms of their experiences in the field.32
The project will also consider whether there is anything distinctive about the content and style of reporting by women as compared with that of their male colleagues. We will explore whether the involvement of female correspondents in greater numbers has affected the issues covered, for example the incidence of rape during the conflict in former Yugoslavia.33 If there has been a feminisation of war reporting, is this phenomenon unproblematic? Is a concentration on human suffering in war, outside of any wider explanatory context, a valuable contribution to our understanding of war? Has it enhanced the coverage of particular conflicts?

Footnotes
27 Janine di Giovanni, Guardian, 30 March 1993.
28 She, July 1993.
29 Guardian, 30 March 1993.
30 Sunday Times, 27 June 1993.
31 Corinne Dufka, a photographer with Reuters, says she wants to make it as difficult as possible for people to ignore her photographs: "I look for
pictures that reflect the human cost of this war." Sunday Times, 27 June
1993.
32 In a special feature in She magazine several women reporters complained of difficulties in being despatched to war zones, July 1993. Others, such as Corinne Dufka of Reuters, have emphasised the advantages of being a woman in a war zone: "I think being a woman is a positive advantage. People, civilians I mean, do not feel as threatened by a woman with a camera as they do by a man with the same equipment." Sunday Times, 27 June 1993.
33 This is not the first war in which women have been raped, but it is the first in which the issue has been given such prominent coverage by the media. ITN's Penny Marshall is convinced that this was because female reporters were there to respond to it. Guardian, 30 March 1993.
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