In Ukraine, female war reporters build on the legacy of pioneers

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Clarissa Ward interrupted her live television report about Ukrainian refugees to help a distraught elderly man, then a woman, down a steep path mangled by an explosion, gently urging them in their tongues.

A day later, New York Times photographer Lynsey Addario captured a grim image of the immediate result of a Russian mortar attack: the bodies of a mother and her two children collapsed on a road amid their suitcase, their backpacks and a pet carrier. .

These memorable reports illustrate both the skill and courage of the women journalists serving as eyewitnesses to Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and how their presence changed the nature of war reporting.

They cover the tactics of the war, but give equal measure to its record.

“People are so exhausted they can barely walk,” Ward told viewers in his report. “It’s just a horrible, horrible scene. And they’re the lucky ones.

The author of “You Don’t Belong Here,” a 2021 book that features three pioneering women who covered the Vietnam War, said there was “absolutely no doubt that reporting is what I would call more human, looking at the human side of war.”

Elizabeth Becker argues that Frances FitzGerald of the United States, Kate Webb of Australia and Catherine Leroy of France were the basis of modern war reporting. Arriving in Southeast Asia on their own, with no staff and little or no journalism experience, they broke the male grip on war reporting with boldness and innovation.

Traditionally, “the coverage was the battlefield, which is important,” said award-winning journalist Becker, a Cambodian war correspondent in the 1970s. She said it took newcomer FitzGerald to ask, “‘OK , what does this mean in terms of Vietnamese and villages?'”

FitzGerald won a 1973 Pulitzer and other accolades for “Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam,” and his 2017 work, “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America,” was shortlisted for the National Book Award.

War reporting is “a sense of mission, it’s a sense of purpose, it’s a sense of being able to tell a story,” said London-born Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s main international anchor. “And women are really, really good at it, it seems.”

It’s also a matter of logic, said Holly Williams, CBS News’ Istanbul correspondent on assignment in Ukraine.

“I’m acutely aware that if you don’t tell women’s stories, you’re missing at least half the picture,” said Australian-born Williams, who has reported on conflict in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. East and worked for BBC News.

Ward, who also hopscotched these regions, worked for CBS News before joining CNN and, before that, was based in Moscow and Beijing for ABC News.

“A lot of times women have a different perspective on war, and for a long time that wasn’t really front and center in the coverage,” Ward said. She strives to include “the humanity behind the story, the experience of ordinary people who live in war zones. For me, it’s just as important as the military component.

The importance of television correspondents and the reach of their points of sale reinforce their impact. Oprah Winfrey praised network reporters online “risking their lives to show the truth to the world”, calling Ward a “fierce, unwavering and exceptional journalist”.

Many of their male colleagues also contribute nuanced reporting, as noted by ABC News veteran Martha Raddatz and others. But Raddatz remembers a time not so long ago when men tended to “love equipment, love planes.”

Ward and other female journalists are tipping the scales toward their predecessors, including FitzGerald and the late Martha Gellhorn, whose reporting spanned from World War II to the 1989-90 U.S. invasion of Panama. They also praise recent pioneers, including Amanpour.

His decades of conflict reporting include the 1991 Gulf War, subsequent clashes in the Middle East region and, in southeastern Europe, the deadly siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1996 during the war between Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“I think my generation and I were maybe the last line of the rare female foreign correspondent,” Amanpour said. In all forms of media, it’s “exploded into a very feminine profession”.

But parity has not yet been achieved in wages, Amanpour said. Or in all journalism jobs, according to Ward.

The growing number of TV correspondents belies “a fairly male-dominated profession in general,” Ward said. “Remember that the person in front of the camera is one person. Then you have, for television, four people holding the camera, behind the camera, and most of them are still men.

Across American journalism, men retain a numerical advantage over women, even in a changing media industry, according to an analysis of census data from the Pew Research Center. While the number of people working in all facets of print, online or video journalism fell nearly 17% between 2008 and 2018, men remained in the majority by the end of the decade at 64%, “on par with their share in 2008” of 60%, Pew found.

This is largely reflected, according to “The Missing Perspectives of Women in News,” a 2020 report by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Despite the progress, “the majority of journalists in newsrooms around the world are men,” the report said, citing several multi-country studies.

Female reporters face additional challenges in non-democratic countries and some regions, Amanpour said.

“They are under enormous social pressure in many parts of the developing world, and certainly in the Islamic world and other areas of what I call patriarchy,” she said. “It’s very difficult, but they’re doing it and coming into this profession more and more, and I really applaud them.”

The presence of women reporting in Ukraine is set against a backdrop of traditional roles and expectations, with women and children allowed to flee the violence of war while men are expected to stay and defend their country.

Yonat Friling, a Jerusalem-based senior producer for Fox News Channel who worked in Ukraine with correspondent Trey Yingst, is aware of how attitudes can vary. In 2004, she was in the international office of an Israeli television channel when she asked her boss to change her to a field producer.

“He said to me, ‘It’s a man’s job. Only men can do that,” recalls the native Israeli. “Then I left, I joined Fox (in 2005). And many times, including this time, I keep texting him, ‘A job for men? Yes indeed.’ “

The mission in Ukraine proved to be deeply moving for Friling. When she recently joined the stream of refugees leaving kyiv, it was a reminder of grandparents who fled Nazism and Soviet occupiers in Europe in the 1940s.

“I saw children and women, and I (saw) my grandparents in their faces. … I know how much this is going to influence their whole lives and the next generations,” she said.

Raddatz, who covered the first refugee evacuations and returned to Ukraine on Friday, realizes how much she and her female colleagues have changed over the years. The chief world affairs correspondent for ABC News covered the Bosnian crisis in the late 1990s and focused on Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I remember in Iraq, I always thought that if something happened to me, it (the reaction) would be: ‘How could she do that, go there when she has two children?’ whereas they would never say that with a guy,” she said. “Now I don’t think they would do that.”

Family needs and concerns add to the burden of war reporting.

NBC News correspondent Erin McLaughlin said that before Russia struck Ukraine, the threat of what might happen worried her parents more than they had about her previous postings, including including in Iraq.

“My brother went to stay with them for the weekend because they were so nervous,” McLaughlin said. “It was really difficult, but at the same time they understand that it’s my calling. It’s important work, and someone has to do it.

Ward, a married mother of two, said her work had an inevitable impact.

“It’s my son’s 4th birthday today, which was really hard to miss,” Ward said at the end of another grueling day in Ukraine, his voice shaky. “There’s the whole juggling act – you’re FaceTiming with your kids and there’s air raid sirens and bombs going off in the distance.”

“I’m not going to pretend it’s not difficult. But I wouldn’t be anywhere else right now,” she said.


Associated Press researcher Jennifer Farrar contributed to this report.

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