How YouTube Is Changing Conflict Reporting

PBS' "Frontline" recently brought together a group of international experts in conflict reporting to talk about new challenges and needs in the field. The network also recorded the event, and has just made available online polished videos of lively conversations between journalists and advocates from Current TV, the New York Times, the Committee, Protect Journalists and others.

The official website includes all the videos, grouped by topic. In one, journalists share experiences in which the dissemination of a news story unwittingly put sources at risk:



In the video, New York Times multimedia journalist Adam Ellick describes what was supposed to be "a fun story" about Adnan and Rizwan Qadeer, brothers who had started a business selling bondage products from Pakistan. After the brothers were threatened and regretted that they had ever consented to an interview, Ellick changed his mind about reporting protocols that dictate when a subject is identified:

At least based on my anecdotal experience, I feel like it's at the point now where, you know, them agreeing to go on the record isn't enough; I have to agree for them to go on the record, too.

While the Qadeer brothers are now apparently doing fine, Martin Smith of "Frontline" describes another piece that had more destructive unintended consequences. Martin's 2003 story featured an Iraqi who was proud to run a shop near the U.S. base in Mosul. As the conflict exploded, the man's association with the U.S. became a source not of pride, but of danger. The story was sold to Al Arabiya and aired in Iraq, with catastrophic results:

The film was probably aired 20 or 30 times. The guy was recognized. Insurgents took his brother hostage, gouged his eye out, chopped his ear off. And there we were ... Had I had any foresight of that being a risk, I wouldn't have wanted to have it on my conscience.

As the New York Times' Rich Tanner summarizes:

Doesn't matter about contracts or who's going to distribute it. With the advent of YouTube, whether they try to block IP addresses, whether it's a "Frontline" piece: Any media, as soon as it's out anywhere, you have to assume, for a source's safety, that the antagonist is going to see it.