Rival Networks Aided Fox News After Ukraine Tragedy, Highlighting War-Zone Media Collaboration

From a Wall Street Journal story by Alexandra Bruell and Benjamin Mullin headlined “Rival Networks Aided Fox News After Ukraine Tragedy, Highlighting War-Zone Collaboration”:

In the hours after three journalists working for Fox News in Ukraine took fire on March 14, staffers from rival news organization CNN stepped up to assist the cable network.

Clarissa Ward, chief international correspondent for CNN, and Trey Yingst, a foreign correspondent for Fox News, worked in CNN’s makeshift newsroom in a Kyiv hotel suite, calling morgues and hospitals to track down Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski and Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, a consultant for the network.

Ms. Ward and Mr. Yingst called Ukrainian military officials and passed along information about their last known whereabouts. Security personnel from NBC and Sky News also offered to help Fox News during that period. Later, Fox News’s security team received a tip that their remains had been located.

A third Fox News journalist, foreign-affairs correspondent Benjamin Hall, survived and had already been taken to the hospital with severe injuries.

The tragedy underscored the tremendous risks journalists face in covering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a conflict that has resulted in the deaths of five media workers in the past month, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The event also demonstrated the teamwork and coordination among news organizations with staffers on the ground.

Such coordination is common in war zones, but the Ukraine conflict has exposed news organizations to different types of threats compared to some other conflicts of recent years. The security risks for journalists in Afghanistan and Iraq were also severe—among them, the threat of improvised explosive devices, kidnappings or suicide bombers. In Ukraine, there is a heightened concern about missiles and artillery fire raining down on civilian areas.

“Here, death comes out of the sky indiscriminately,” said a head of global newsgathering at a large U.S.-based news network.

David Rohde, a former New York Times reporter who was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2008 while working on a book, said that the information shared among news organizations helps journalists in the country avoid danger.

“We should compete aggressively against each other in terms of stories but shouldn’t compete when it comes to safety,” said Mr. Rohde, who is now executive editor for news at the New Yorker’s website.

In the event a journalist is injured or killed, the U.S. military doesn’t have a presence in Ukraine to offer help. In the case of Mr. Hall, Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin worked with an organization called Save Our Allies to transport the injured journalist and get him access to medical care.

Mr. Hall was evacuated to Poland and was eventually transported back to the U.S.

Elena Cosentino, the director of the International News Safety Institute, which supports outlets covering hazardous situations, said she began organizing daily safety calls in the weeks before the war with news executives from organizations including the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Dow Jones & Co., which publishes The Wall Street Journal. The frequency of the calls and amount of information being shared—regarding safe travel routes, hard-to-navigate military checkpoints and access to supplies—is unprecedented, she said.

“Ultimately, the aim is to raise the bar for safety and have the best mitigations in place while doing the best-possible journalism,” Ms. Cosentino said.

The Associated Press and other news outlets, including Reuters, are sharing information that can help them shape individual decisions, such as about where to send correspondents. Some news organizations are teaming up to identify ways to evacuate their personnel, secure lodging and transport journalists into the country. Recently, outlets with correspondents on the ground began exploring ways to handle medical emergencies together.

Journalists are also facing risks on the other side of the Ukrainian border. Early this month, Russia passed a law that threatens as much as 15 years of prison time for anyone publishing what authorities consider to be false information about the country’s invasion of Ukraine, which the Kremlin refers to as a special military operation.

A number of news outlets, including CNN and Bloomberg News, suspended the work of their journalists in the country. New York Times Co. also decided to pull its editorial staff from Russia, and the Washington Post at the time said it would remove bylines from articles reported in Russia. Dow Jones said in a statement that being in Moscow is key to its mission of covering the Ukraine-Russia story.

After news organizations communicated their plans in response to the new law, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned several correspondents to discuss the matter. In the meeting, a Russian official grilled some correspondents about their justification for being in Russia, with their companies’ operations suspended, one of the people said.

“There were challenges living and working as a journalist in Russia, but this new law essentially made it impossible by criminalizing independent fact-based reporting,” said Michael Slackman, assistant managing editor for international at the Times.

The British Broadcasting Corp. suspended its broadcasts from Russia and sought legal advice from specialists, including lawyers based in Russia, said Richard Burgess, interim head of news content for BBC News. Days later, the BBC said its correspondents could resume reporting in English from Russia, as long as they used specific language that complied with the BBC’s interpretation of the law. Instead of calling the invasion of Ukraine a war, for example, BBC News Russia Editor Steve Rosenberg uses language such as, “what the Kremlin refuses to call the war,” said Mr. Burgess.

“Nobody knows definitively the way that the Russian government will interpret this new law, but we made a judgment call,” he said.

The level of risk was too great to continue coverage in Russian, he said.

BBC World News coverage that aired in English in Russia was banned, and BBC News websites were blocked in Russian and English, said a BBC spokeswoman. To distribute its news content, the BBC launched an account on TikTok in Russian and English and has been broadcasting over shortwave radio in Ukraine and parts of Russia to locals, said Mr. Burgess.

“We are doing what we can to get news to people,” he said.


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