Being a warzone freelancer is risky: They are underpaid; insurance is unaffordable; there’s no support for reporters who get kidnapped or exploited. At a World Press Freedom event in May, New Yorker writer George Packer said, “I can think of very few things that take more guts than being a freelancer today and going into a warzone.”
For these reasons and others, a group of conflict-zone freelancers created the Frontline Freelance Registry, whose New York chapter launched Wednesday night. It’s a grassroots group aimed at protecting and uniting the increasing number of freelancers reporting in foreign countries and conflict zones. The club’s London counterpart launched earlier this month.
The group was formed most directly as a response to a lethal couple of years in war reporting, which saw the deaths of journalists like Marie Colvin, Tim Hetherington, and Chris Hondros. And, noted FFR founding board member Anna Therese Day, “many of those big names represent many many other journalists who have been killed or kidnapped in recent years.”
Conflict-zone freelancers already network informally through private Facebook groups, and more formally through trainings like RISC, started by Hetherington’s close friend, Sebastian Junger. But they didn’t have a way to start and lead conversations about the dangers of sending reporters without institutional support into danger, or to fight back against news outlet requests that warzone freelancers report on spec—those reporters could be risking their lives for nothing if their work is then rejected. The registry could provide scattered freelancers with an organized voice.
“We want to make sure our members are protected by the agencies that send them into warzones,” Day said shortly before FFR’s launch event, and a day before her planned return to Syria. The registry already has 250 verified members, and there are about 200 more applications in the pipeline, she said.
“In a cash-strapped era where long-term professional assignments have become virtually non-existent, freelance journalism is both a legitimate career choice and an essential component of the international news cycle,” Day and fellow FFR founding board members wrote on The Huffington Post. “The status quo serves no one well, and there is an opportunity for freelancers to transition themselves and their status in the industry into a more stable, constructive, and regarded role.”Kira Goldenberg was an associate editor at CJR from 2012-2015. Follow her on Twitter at @kiragoldenberg.