What does a war reporter look like? The public perception of female war reporters

Writings in war and peace

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2019

17 Pages, Grade: 1,7



Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Perception of female war reporters: a cultural circuit

3. Gender-related imbalance in news reporting - a myth?
3.1 Female war reporters in the field
3.2 Successful contemporary female war reporters

4. Gendering in the professional field of foreign reporting
4.1 Underrepresentation of female correspondents
4.2 The threat of discrimination, stigmatization and violence

5. Conclusionp

6. Bibliographyp

1. Introduction

Since the late 19th century a particular public interest in war correspondents has grown. Today, attention has reached new heights due to public fascination with people who present and organize images of destruction and misery (Lieske, 2008, p. 282). Public interest in the profession of war correspondents derives from the fact that correspondents deal with socially relevant questions and help to shape people `s perception of war: they may thus be thought of as “essential contributors to the public understanding” of military conflicts (Tumber and Webster, 2006, p. 166). Due to globalization and global networking, this profession is of considerable cultural and social relevance since consumers are affected by international conflicts, even if they are not directly involved or impacted firsthand. War correspondents, in turn, are confronted by public assumptions and expectations. Since the late 20th century, especially, technological developments and the presence of war correspondents on television have contributed to public perceptions regarding the outer appearance and the performance of a `prototypical` war reporter and affected the gender-related public expectations regarding this profession.

Because female war reporters are still underrepresented in western media, it is commonly assumed that the prototypical war reporter is a male correspondent. Thus, Korte assumed that the profession of embedded reporters is a world determined by men and in public `s perception war correspondents are still considered to be rather male than female (Korte, 2009, p.158). On first sight, this assumption seems implausible because of the large number of female war reporters. However, female war reporters have to face a number of gender-related threats and stigmatization concerning their work which are pointed out in the second part of this paper. Consequently, this paper points out how female war reporters are perceived by western society and interrogates whether Korte `s assumption represents reality or not. Therefore, this essay also examines in how far these representations correspond to existing public perceptions regarding female war reporters but also have repercussions for our conception of war correspondents.

The term of a war correspondent covers a wide range of profiles and refers to men and women, professionals, journalists, freelancers, soldiers and even to civilians who inform people about the experiences they have made in war zones. In this essay, the terms of war reporter and war correspondent are used as a synonym and include men as well as women. However, in this paper, the terms are only used to refer to journalists who cover wars as their profession and earn money with their coverages which means that soldiers or civilians who cover wars are excluded.

2. Perception of female war reporters: a cultural circuit

In the first place, it appears necessary to point out how associations and conceptions arise and which effects they have, to then focus on the public perception of female war reporters. Therefore, this part, first of all, points out how the representation, the perception and the performance of female war reporters are connected and how they influence each other. Korte developed a cultural circuit (figure a) which highlights that the representation, the (self-) perception and the performance of war reporters are closely connected and influence each other significantly. She states that representations of war reporters in the western media tend to select certain characteristics of war correspondents and highlight them or exaggeratedly depict them. These representations indicate which association and conceptions people who look at the profession from the outside connect with war reporters (Korte, 2009, p.13).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(figure a: The cultural circuit of the representations of war correspondents Korte, 2009, p.15.)

Both male and female war reporters have in common that they need to sell their coverages and, therefore, try to find a commercially successful story. As a consequence, war reporting as a branch of journalism is also determined by the principles of supply and demand. This means that, primarily, the mediatized western society as the target group decides what kind of news should be delivered by whom. First of all, this means that representations are influenced by perceptions and demands of the target group since the media industry tries to fulfill their demands to expand their reach. Furthermore, the non-fictional representations of war reporters in western media are also affected by their performance. Secondly, the expectations and the perceptions of war reporters themselves and others is, thereby, also influenced by the way war correspondents are represented in the media as their representations shape the public idea of a `prototypical` war correspondent. Moreover, their own and their colleagues` behavior also affect the representations of their profession. Thirdly, to complete the circuit, the behavior of war reporters, though, is affected by the images of oneself and others as well as by the way war reporters are depicted. These images which are circulated through representations lead to correspondents` attempts to imitate or distance themselves from the presented version of war reporters.

As a conclusion, the representations of war reporters are framed by the conventions and expectations of the target group and by the performance of the correspondents. However, these representations also frame and control war reporters` perception and behavior. This circuit visualizes the interconnectedness of the expectations and interests of the public, the media industry and the correspondents themselves and highlights how they influence each other.

3. Gender imbalance a myth?

After explaining the establishment and maintenance of public perception, the second part of this essay now interrogates whether the public concept of young men as prototypical war correspondents represents reality or not and whether Korte is right by saying that war coverage is still determined by men. By looking at different women from the 21st century who currently cover conflicts and their success but also at obstacles female war reporters have to face, this paper aims to analyze how they shape public `s perception of a `prototypical` war correspondent.

Korte argues that since wars are determined by patriarchal structures and brutality, the idea of young, strong and fearless single men as the prototypical war correspondent is very common and widely spread. Moreover, she continues: “In public perception, however, war corresponding is still usually associated with men and a display of masculinity (…)” (Korte, 2009, p. 158). Following her line of argumentation, wars are still considered as a men `s world whereas women are considered as too sensitive to enter this world and emotionally not able to cover hard facts (Lieske, 2008, p. 246).

3.1 Female war reporters in the field

This assumption appears implausible, considering the number of famous, high profile female war reporters. To name just a few - the CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour has become an international celebrity since the 1990s and Kate Addie became at least nationally famous for her war coverage for BBC. Both of them were honored with different awards - like the Women `s World Award - for their courageous work (Ness, 2012, p. 74). Furthermore, female war reporters are not peculiar to contemporary war reporting, since women have been covering conflicts since at the beginning of the twentieth century, if not earlier, with some, like American reporter, Martha Gellhorn, even becoming very famous. As early as the 1960s, for example, more than seventy women reported on the Vietnam War. Gloria Emerson who was one of the female war correspondents in South Vietnam explained that even if the preponderance of war reporters were men, the sight of a female correspondent was not an unusual one. She also highlights the significance female reporters had during the Vietnam War as they reported for major news media and won journalistic awards already (Elwood-Akers, 1988, p. 2).

Today, the presence of female war reporters in conflict zones has increased significantly and the number of women in conflict zones has caught up to the number of their male counterparts. Avery Haines, who traveled as a war correspondent to Iraq in 2017 also reports in an interview that in her experience, the preponderance of war correspondents were self-employed young women (Haines, 2017, 1:45-1:55 min.). Thus, Simpson comes to the result that “nowadays, women are as likely to report on wars as men are and some – Maggie O` Kane, Marie Colvin, Janine di Giovanni, Orla Guerin among others – do so with real distinction (Simpson, 2002, p. 279). In times of modern reporting, more women than men graduate in media studies (Ness, 2012, p. 70) which highlights the fact that female war correspondents are qualified and skilled. Usually, they have professional equipment and a well-prepared team of locals, translators, fixers and security guards. This is apparent, for instance, in Carolin Emcke `s letters in which she processes her experiences she made when she had traveled to northern Iraq in 2003. In these letters, Emcke describes that she traveled together with a photographer and a local translator who assisted her and supported her during her research. In her writings, she mentions that she was treated respectfully by the Kurds and that she was “greeted like a friend” (Emcke, 2007, p. 249). This would suggest that Emcke experienced an environment in which she was fully accepted. Notwithstanding her gender, she was able to interview concerned people, do research and pursue her profession just as her male colleagues. However, she seems to be aware of the fact, that the Kurds tried to profit from the international interest in their situation and might, thus, behaved remarkably friendly (Emcke, 2007, p. 250).

Generally, some of the female war reporters might even benefit from the fact that they are women in the field of journalism since it is commonly assumed that women offer a unique perspective on warfare and are more sensitive while dealing with civilians. Although this stereotypical assumption needs to be seen critically, coverages of female war reporters might be published by editors intending to fill a gap in the market by addressing a different target group. Some editors might even give a job to a woman and expect her to display her femininity while reporting from war zones which will be pointed out in more detail in chapter 4.2 of this essay.

3.2. Successful contemporary female war reporters

This part of the essay aims to refer to some female war reporters who gained extraordinary attention for their work. However, it is not possible and not the idea of this essay to mention each woman who received public interest for her coverage but it is intended to give an insight on how multifaceted and diverse contemporary female war reporters are. While some women work as freelancers, others cover conflicts for major networks, many women are well prepared and attended journalism colleges but some are also inexperienced. The fact that the women who cover wars nowadays are of different ages and have different ethnical backgrounds, highlights the fact that there is not that `one prototypical war correspondent` any longer. One example for this generation of female war reporter is Yonit Levi whose father was born in the USSR and whose mother is from Romania. She had grown up and had studied in Chicago before she moved to Israel to work as an Israeli television presenter and journalist.

Another example of this generation of female war reporters is Orla Guerin. Born in 1966, she is an Irish journalist and works for BBC News. In January 2001, Guerin was, for instance, based in Jerusalem and reported from there as BBC `s Middle East correspondent. During her career, she was also based in Johannesburg, Islamabad and other places throughout the world. Her constant presence as a foreign correspondent and her political engagement helped her to become extraordinary well known and she was awarded by different organizations.

Another woman who became significantly famous for her coverage of wars is Christiane Amanpour. Amanpour is a British-Iranian correspondent who was born in London in January 1958. She grew up in Tehran, Iran, but also spent time in London as well. In 1979 Amanpour and her family moved to London and she started to attend a small journalism college after her sister had dropped out. Later on, she explained that the experiences she made in Iran during the Iranian revolution motivated her to become a war correspondent as she saw at first hand that these military conflicts are life-changing. In 1983, Amanpour was offered the opportunity to join CNN to work as an assistant at the international desk in Atlanta. After a few years, she was promoted as CNN foreign correspondent and because of that position, she was able to cover various conflicts all over the world like the democratic Revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989 or the Persian Gulf War in 1990 (Ness, 2012, p. 71). Amanpour often felt restricted and criticized the military censorship which, as she, later on, pointed out motivated her to go beyond limits and break rules. This way of coverage brought her many viewers, public attention and she earned the Television Academy Honor, nine News and Documentary Emmy Awards, four George Foster Peabody Awards among others. Besides that, CNN offered her about one million dollars during contract negotiations in 1994 which highlights that Amanpour belongs to the most successful and highest-paid correspondents worldwide (Ness, 2012, p. 74). This example shows, that female war reporters are put in demand by major networks and that women are also able to earn a lot of money in the field of foreign correspondence.

In 1998 Amanpour married the American politician James Rubin and two years later gave birth to her son. She was able to combine her private life and her career which means she kept on reporting from dangerous places from all over the world.


Excerpt out of 17 pages


What does a war reporter look like? The public perception of female war reporters
Writings in war and peace
University of Duisburg-Essen
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
The (under)representation of female war reporters in western media, gender-related threats, prototypical war reporter
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2019, What does a war reporter look like? The public perception of female war reporters, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/986251


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