This ever-present danger required rules. Good reporters—those who knew what they were doing and never got complacent—made you safer. Bad reporters—the arrogant ones—could, and did, get people killed. One of the things that helped him make it out alive, Kamber attested, was that he was “terrified the whole time … I checked myself all the time, I was watching myself the whole time.” Blending in with the locals and making oneself as inconspicuous as possible was vital.
The industry has changed, and not for the better. The final question of the Q&A was about the future of photojournalism, in light of the recent layoff of the entire Sun-Times photography staff. Kamber argued that while photojournalism itself would always exist in some form, the media industry that had funded professional journalism was essentially gone.
“If you were a 29 year old photojournalist, what would you do now?” responded the questioner.
The audience, which included a fair number of journalists, burst into grim laughter. What could you do? The shift in the industry was total. As if to underscore this reality, the Brooklyn Brewery’s Steve Hindy pointed out that in his day, most of the journalists he worked with had staff jobs with benefits. Today, he said, quoting an estimate from Sebastian Junger, perhaps 80% of the journalists in war zones were freelancers.
Audience response to the talk was uniformly positive. When I talked to him afterwards, Todd Heisler pointed out that the talk was only the tip of the iceberg—just a small window into the reality of war photography. Carolyn Cole characterized the changes in the industry as a double-edged sword: the rise of the Internet has increased the potential audience for photography and journalism, but also eroded support structures for journalists.
Wednesday’s event was the third in a series of discussions with war correspondents at the Brooklyn Brewery, produced in cooperation with the nonprofit Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues (RISC) and Togather, a platform that helps authors facilitate similar talks. Proceeds of the ticket sales went to RISC, which trains freelance correspondents in the administration of first aid to injured colleagues.