On Monday Radar magazine offered a look at the lives of freelance journalists in Iraq, and whether they're taking too many risks without backup (disclosure: I was quoted, and the Freelancers Union plugged).
Jill Carroll, 30, was kidnapped last January while freelancing for the Christian Science Monitor and held for 82 days. Tony Doukoupil, a freelancer and journalism student himself, says newspapers are shuttering foreign bureaus, leaving many war reporters essentially out on their own. They often lack access to extra armed guards and other security, making an already dangerous job unacceptably so.
"The benefits for employers in an age of declining advertising revenues, evaporating print audiences, and increasing competition are obvious: no health care costs, no overhead fees, and streams of gutsy reporters willing to step into the crossfire."
Another CSM freelancer wrote harrowingly about her experience for the American Prospect:
"when the insurgency flared in late 2003, and large media organizations began hiring $50,000 a month security forces, we were both forced to adopt the same safety strategy: fly-under-the-radar...On one Monitor assignment in mid 2004 in the same Sunni neighborhood where Carroll was kidnapped, eight rockets landed within 20 yards of me and the US soldiers I was interviewing. No one was hurt. As I breathily described the scene to my editor, there were no offers of support beyond sympathy."
Although nothing can compare to Carroll's ordeal, freelancers in lots of industries are exposed to risks that traditional employees aren't. Surviving without health insurance has to be the most widespread unacceptable risk of all.