Dateline Mogadishu

"The worse Mogadishu gets...the fewer journalists are willing to go."

It’s a conundrum for reporters and news consumers—the more dangerous a particular place gets, the fewer reporters are willing, or able, to stick around to cover it. That’s not to say that reporters don’t run toward the sound of gunfire, a core group of scribes has always stuck around to tell the story, be it Vietnam, Central America, Sarajevo, Iraq or Afghanistan. Somalia has been somewhat of a different story, however. Despite the fact that some western reporters have stuck it out and have continued to report the story, the utter lawlessness and confused nature of the fighting between government forces, Islamic militants and Ethiopian troops has caused many Western reporters to flee.

But some are going back. David Axe, a longtime friend to CJR and veteran Iraq hand (he’s also reported from Afghanistan and East Timor), is heading Mogadishu at this very moment, and chronicling his trip on his blog, Axe feels the tension between the need to report from dangerous—and important—places and the instinct for self-preservation. While in Nairobi preparing to head to Somalia, he’s spoken to other reporters:

“Don’t be daft,” a veteran Africa correspondent told us when he found out we were Mogadishu-bound. It was a sentiment echoed by several formerly Somalia-based Western reporters who have all fled to the relative safety of Nairobi to wait out the current troubles. Every reporter we’ve talked to has tried to talk us out of going. They seem to believe that working in Somalia is a death sentence. (Never mind that a Western journalist hasn’t died in Somalia since the summer of 2006: Iraq and Afghanistan are way more lethal.) My fixers, who live and work in Mogadishu every day, say we’ll be just fine if we keep our heads down and don’t do anything heroic. I trust their assessment enough to stake my life on it. And I can’t help but wonder if those Western reporters are like First World air travelers: in denial about their own mortality, committed only to doing what seems perfectly safe.

In the end, he says, “it’s ironic. The worse Mogadishu gets, the bigger news it is, and the fewer journalists are willing to go. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.