Reporting on war or reporting from a war zone means being part of the conflict. What we choose to cover – or not cover – makes a difference, often directly affecting the lives of people impacted by war. Sometimes it even influences the course of war itself.
Media that mostly or even exclusively report on the people who make war – a country's ruling political class, soldiers and warlords – contribute to concentrating power in the hands of these very people. They give them another platform, regardless of whether they want it or not. This is especially true for images and videos.
I believe it is better to focus coverage on civilians in war zones. It should be about telling their stories, trying to understand them and showing how they are suffering and what could help.
These people had a life before war, and hopefully, they will have one after it, as well. They should not be portrayed as victims. That's why it is important not only to show their pain and their fear but also their strength and their resilience. For example, in an interview, one could ask what gives them courage, what helps them, what are the roots of their hope.
The expertise of local journalists and media professionals must be recognised. A newcomer will often falsely assess a situation.
It is important for reporters and correspondents to learn the language of the country from which they are reporting as quickly as possible. They must also recognise the expertise of their local colleagues and respect their judgement, knowledge and ability to assess a situation; there is a very high likelihood that a newcomer will arrive with stereotypes and prejudices and make a false assessment. In a worst-case scenario, this can prove deadly.
When reporting from war and conflict zones, it is also imperative to ensure the safety of oneself and one's subjects. No story in the world is worth someone's death.
Anyone who wants report on a country experiencing war, but who didn't report on that place in peacetime, should ask themselves what about this situation makes them want to cover it. Adrenaline, a desire for adventure and the feeling of experiencing history being written are all possible reasons – but they shouldn't be the only ones!
War is destructive. It breaks people, on all sides. This is also true for the media professionals who report on it. No matter how hectic, brutal and pressing the situation you are reporting on or that you find yourself in may seem, you should always consider and reconsider your own role. Thoughtless reporting can be damaging to oneself and to the people you are covering.
This is not easy; in fact, it may even be the hardest thing about reporting from a war zone. Nevertheless, it is always, in every circumstance, absolutely necessary. It is particularly when covering war and crisis that the media can question the idea of armed violence as a political concept and report repeatedly on alternative forms of politics. They can report on people who are promoting peace – even if it seems like a remote possibility.
Ronja von Wurmb-Seibel studied political science in Munich. She worked as an editor on the politics desks of the German weekly Die Zeit before going freelance in 2013. Her time reporting from Kabul taught her to tell stories in a way that inspires courage.
In 2015 she published a book detailing her experiences as a young woman in Kabul. Her latest book, published in 2022, deals with the predominance of negative news.You can find more information about Wurmb-Seibel and her books at