There are a few upsides to being a freelancer, though. After her first trip, she went back with the help of a fellowship from NYU. Being a free agent was, for Stillman, “a way of pursuing this story I was really passionate about but other outlets might not be willing to support up front.” She’s talking about a feature she reported about human trafficking on US military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, which ended up being her first story in The New Yorker. It would have been a long shot to sell that piece up front, on just a pitch.
I agree with Draper, who wrote in ELLE that these stories are “worth reporting on, even at great risk.” And yeah, Lindhout ended up with a sweet book deal and an avalanche of media attention. But such an ordeal is really, really not worth it. The bottom line, says Greenwell, is that “living in a warzone with institutional support is incredibly difficult. You should not even consider doing it without institutional support without an exceeding amount of preparation. Bravado is not a virtue in warzones.”