Brooklyn Brewery gives freelancers a hand

"Beer and war stories are a great match"

With the decline of foreign bureaus, much of the reporting in conflict zones is now being done by freelancers, who need all the help they can get.

Which is why the Brooklyn Brewery joined forces this year with event planners Togather to present a speaker series supporting RISC (Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues), a charity that teaches freelancers first aid.

Brooklyn Brewery co-founder Steve Hindy was a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press in the Middle East in the late 1970s and early ’80s, reporting from Iran during the hostage crisis and Lebanon during the 1982 war.

His daughter, Lily, is RISC’s deputy director. She said her father had always wanted to give war correspondents the chance to discuss their experiences with the public, and “as all journalists know and my father appreciates,” she said, “beer and war stories are a great match.” Guests have included the New York Times’ C.J. Chivers, who was working in lower Manhattan during the September 11 attacks, and photojournalists Michael Kamber and Todd Heisler, who discussed their work covering the Iraq War. Hindy helped draw up a dream list of journalists to speak at the Brewery, and almost everyone on it agreed. Like her father, they all wanted to support RISC.

Founded by Sebastian Junger after the death of his friend and fellow journalist, Tim Hetherington, RISC provides free emergency medical training to freelance reporters working in high-risk areas. Courses are held once a year in New York, London, and Beirut. Participants only pay for the cost of travel and food, and each of them receives a medical kit to take with them.

Hindy describes the four-day training session as “first aid plus”: basic first aid, but “with a lot of specific, battlefield-related injuries and life-saving techniques piled on top of it.” Classes focus on coping with the four most common, and preventable, causes of death in conflict zones: bleeding, airway obstruction, tension pneumothorax (when a small puncture wound in the chest creates an air pocket that presses on the lungs and heart), and hypothermia. The program’s head trainer is a US military reservist who previously served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The kinds of things that kill soldiers, rebels, and civilians on the battlefield are the same kinds of things that kill journalists,” Hindy said.

The Brewery is usually full to capacity during the talks, with 100-200 people at a time. Hindy said he is pleased they have attracted such a large audience; Lily Hindy said that holding war reporting events at the brewery allowed the topic to reach a crowd beyond the journalism safety advocates and students that usually attend such gatherings. She also said that RISC has brought in $13,000 from ticket sales and donations at the door at the six events held so far—enough to put 13 freelancers through a RISC course.

RISC and the Brewery have also explored taking the series on the road. The first RISC training event in London, in October, coincided with a talk in which Channel 4 correspondent Lindsey Hilsum and Sunday Times freelancer Paul Conroy shared their memories of Marie Colvin.

The War Correspondents @ The Brooklyn Brewery series continues on December 4, with Vice magazine Editor in Chief Rocco Castoro interviewing photojournalist Ashley Gilbertson. More events are scheduled for next year.

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Edirin Oputu is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @EdirinOputu Tags: , , ,