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What the war in Ukraine is teaching journalists

Images: JNI/7News

Images: JNI/7News

A key battle in the war in Ukraine is playing out online, with misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda rife as both sides take to their phones to share their experiences of the war.  

So how are newsrooms countering the flood of misinformation while also using new platforms like TikTok and Telegram in their own reporting? And where does good old-fashioned, eye-witness reportage fit into it all?

In the first episode of Season 2 of Journo, host Nick Bryant asks what lessons we are learning from the kind of conflict we hoped had been banished to the past.

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Episode 1: From TikTok to Telegraph — What is the war in Ukraine teaching journalists?

Listen to more episodes of Journo

Guests

This episode features:

  • Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s chief international correspondent and senior presenter whose interview about her time in Kyiv went viral.
  • Chris Reason from Seven News, whose drone footage of a bombed apartment block and an interview with Kyiv’s mayor made headlines around the world.
  • Sarah Cahlan from the Washington Post on how news verification has evolved.
  • Liubomyra Remazhevsk, a local Ukrainian journalist on her experience reporting on a war in her home country.

Full transcript

Ros Atkins, BBC journalist
I’m sure some viewers are wondering, what’s the beautiful building behind you that we see every evening?
 

Lyse Doucet, BBC Chief International Correspondent
Yes. Isn’t it beautiful? Every time I hear the bells of St. Michael, it reminds me of another time. And it sends a message right across this country, because the bells, the bells, they toll for Ukraine.  

Matthew Chance, CNN Senior International Correspondent
I have never heard anything like this in Kiev for the years that I’ve been reporting from here. I think it’s relatively safe at the moment… that I’ve got a… there’s another [explosion]. I’ve got a flak jacket right here. Let me just get get it on. 

Liubomyra Remazhevska, journalist
Every person you meet, you suffer with that person together. You live their story. 

Lyse Doucet
In journalism, everything has changed and nothing has changed. 

Nick Bryant, Journo host
The war in Ukraine has shown us that history never ended. And journalists have taken extraordinary risks in composing the first rough draft.

The dangers of day-to-day reporting have not been the only challenge confronting news organisations. There’s been the flood of misinformation, the difficulty of separating the real from the false. 

TV Rain journalist
It’s very important for Russian authorities not to use the words such as “invasuion” or “war” 

Nick Bryant
We’re seeing the use of new platforms like TikTok and Telegram, which have enabled victims of the conflict to tell their own stories. 

TikTok
You hear a siren sound three and four times a day. Russian invasion took  the freedom from us. 

Nick Bryant
We’ve also been reminded of the value of old-fashioned eyewitness reportage.  

Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East Editor
This is more than a collection of terrible deaths. It’s a crime scene, because under the laws of war, civilians are supposed to be protected.  

Nick Bryant
This is a war that’s reshaping the world we live in. But how is it altering the media landscape as well? What lessons are we learning from the kind of conflicts we hoped had been banished to the past?

I’m Nick Bryant, and this is Journo, a podcast from the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas. We’re taking a closer look at how news is made, how news is disseminated, how news is consumed. We’re looking at the biggest challenges, the biggest opportunities facing our industry. 

Lyse Doucet
At five o’clock in the morning, we heard the first “crump” of explosions in Ukrainian capital Kyiv. We heard for the first time the air raid sirens cutting through the early morning air and our WhatsApp group was buzzing with Ukrainian and foreign journalists saying, “Did you hear that? Did you hear that? Is it starting? It’s starting the invasion has started, the Russian tanks have rolled across the border, they’re heading towards Kyiv.” 

Nick Bryant
Lyse Doucet was already in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv when the Russian invasion began. As the BBC’s chief international correspondent, she has become one of the journalistic faces of the Ukraine war, appearing daily from her rooftop position. Lyse told me about the moments just after the invasion began.  

Lyse Doucet
It’s a moment where you, you remember, you recognise, you feel in every vein in your body. This is one of the reasons why you became a journalist, that we’re not part of a story on the sidelines of history, we are marching in the middle of this history as it unfolds before our eyes. And we are moving with this history. And we have this incredible role, but also this responsibility to play some part in the telling of the story of our time, that expression that we all know so well, but yet has such resonance, that first rough draft of history. And in moments like the events of September 11. In the moments like those hours when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. Those are very rough moments, but they are breathtaking, too. Because you’re in a void you thought oh my God, look at what has happened. But oh my God, what will happen next? 

Nick Bryant
And Lyse as that epic history was swirling around you and coming at you at such a dizzying pace and such a high velocity, I wonder how you keep on track of the story. How do you get your information? How do you figure out what is really going on? 

Lyse Doucet
Every year. And sometimes even more than once a year. We live through yet another shift in the kind of technology, which is the tools of our trade. So when it was the momentous events of 2011 when young Egyptians, and all thronged the Tahrir Square, it was when Facebook and Twitter became the kind of tools that we used not just to find out what was happening but to tell everyone else and to hear from others.

The technology which defined the Ukrainian war and it was one that I had not used before was Telegram. Suddenly, we had not just politicians and defence ministers, the President of Ukraine, President Zelenskyy, who of course, more than anyone else of this moment is cometh the hour, cometh the man, who used Telegram to broadcast, to share his nightly addresses that became required and essential listening, watching for not just journalists but for many around the world who were following every step in turn, every moment of this war as it unfolded.

Telegram became one of the main platforms, the main social media platforms that informed all of us and there were and there are so many journalists covering this war of our time because it is a war which matters in so many capitals. And to so many people across so many walks of life. I have never seen and played a part of a war like this.

Nick Bryant
I’m fascinated by Telegram because I’ve never used it either. It’s an instant messaging service, right? I mean, how does it differ from all the other instant messaging services and why is it become so prominent? 

Lyse Doucet
Telegram is not just for sending messages to people and getting messages from people on an encrypted app, which is supposed to be even better security than Signal or WhatsApp. It’s also a broadcasting platform so that President Zelenskyy, or the defence minister of Ukraine, or prominent journalists can actually put their material open to all on the Telegram channel. So it’s not just an encrypted app from sender to receiver. But it’s also a way to share information. 

Nick Bryant
Lyse, for all the new technology that has been introduced in this war, I mean, watching from afar, I’ve just been reminded about the value of eyewitness reportage — of shoe leather reporting.

Some of the most memorable reporting that I’ve seen during this conflict has come from reporters getting right in the midst of the action, getting right in the midst of the conflict. 

Lyse Doucet
It’s a very important point. I always say in journalism that everything has changed and nothing has changed. Journalism now is marked by these dazzling shifts in technology, which has given us capacities and platforms, and a reach beyond any imagination we would have had in decades gone by.

But nothing, nothing can replace the good old fashioned, as you say, face to face journalism, in the heat and the dust. The kind of conversations where you look in the eye, where you touch the hand, where you feel what is happening, you see what is happening.  

They teach journalists about the five W’s: the who, what, when, where, why. But journalism has a sixth W. So there’s who, what, when, where, why, and then the wow that you can only get by feeling it, by that kind of face to face conversation that is so much at the heart of being a journalist. And the other — certainly since the times of President Donald Trump in the United States — who, what, when, where, why, and WTF. 

Being there when it is happening is what journalism is all about. 

Seven News anchor
Seven News chief reporter Chris Reason has been filing some of the most astonishing reports anywhere seen in the world. Even he is overawed by the incredible access he’s been getting to places and people. 

Chris Reason, 7News Chief Reporter
In the Ukrainian capital a missile strike, followed by another missile strike, and another missile strike. Three surgical hits on a city in need of first aid. We’d been shooting a report nearby when one flew straight over us. The blast enormous. Five killed. 

Nick Bryant
When Channel Seven’s Chris Reason left for Europe it was because the Queen had Covid and he thought he might end up covering her funeral. Instead, he found himself in the midst of war. 

Chris Reason
I had a suitcase packed with suits and ties, most of them black, and then when the call came just three days later, Thursday morning 4–5am, “the Russians are going across the border can you get to Ukraine?” Off I went, with a suitcase full of suits. 

I was the best dressed correspondent in Ukraine. A totally inappropriate set of kit I went with, but there you have it. 

Nick Bryant
And that requires a real mind shift doesn’t it? You think you’re going to cover maybe the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and suddenly you find yourself in the biggest war since World War II.

Chris Reason
Yeah, it was a fundamental mind shift and one I suddenly had to get up to speed on very, very quickly. And it’s something I’m practicing for years. And it’s what we do, isn’t it? I called a parachute journalism. You fly in, and those moments of flight are where you’re cramming your head with every bit of information you can. You’ve downloaded article after article from all the reliable and trusted sources. And you’ve basically tried to become as expert as you can by the time your boots hit the ground. And in this particular case, the boots hit the ground and we were broadcasting within minutes.         

But we poked the nose of the car across that border post straight into what was obviously an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe. Thousands of people. Absolute chaos at that border. It’s six lanes, that highway coming in and out of Ukraine–Poland, and all six of them were pointing West and filled with cars trying to get out. And I looked at the cameraman, Simon Hydzik, and I said, “Oh, I guess the story starts now.” And so began, we went straight into rolling broadcast with breakfast television, and that knowledge I’d crammed in on the plane suddenly is spewing from the mouth, and you’re talking with as much authority as you can about something, really, you don’t know all that much about. 

Nick Bryant
Now, Chris, it used to be, when you arrived in a country, you would try to talk to people. You’re trying to meet as many people as you can. Now, a smart way to sort of short circuit that process is to check out what people are posting online. 

Chris Reason
Yeah absolutely and working hand in hand with what I think was probably the best fixer I’ve ever had. He was phenomenal and so well tapped into social, and the two of us would pour over the phones, you know, hour after hour after hour, just checking sources and watching you know where activity was.

I’d say to him, “I need a bombed-out tank for this backdrop for this live piece I’ve got to do.” And we go ‘bombed out tank search’, bang, there it is. Get the coordinates and we drive up there.  And it’s played a phenomenal part.

Organisations like Bellingcat, that just, I mean, it’s game changing stuff for frontline journalism. It just is extraordinary how much information they can offer — not just in locations of every missile dropped, which they were doing in a real time light map — but also verifying social media that you wanted to use and upload into your reports and stories. And, mate, to be honest, 25–30%, sometimes more, of the reports I’m filing — at four minutes each — are made up of social media.  

The pictures are incredible, that they’re getting, that we could never hope to get as mainstream media. So, we’re drawing on those resources. 

Nick Bryant
Chris, from a craft point of view, from a professional point of view, I thought one of the standout moments in the coverage of this war was a piece to camera that you did in Kyiv. And now it started very close up and then came this stunning reveal, you were being filmed by a drone and you were standing on the roof of a bombed-out apartment building. A stunning way to use a relatively new piece of kit to tell the story in a different way. 

Chris Reason (reporting)
Fortunately, this building was largely empty at the time. Most residents had already decided, in the last couple of weeks, to pack the bags, leave this city and head to the safety of the West. 

Chris Reason
We were at a bombed-out building in the north of Kyiv, and it seemed to me a safe enough place to do it. You wouldn’t think the Russians would strike it twice when there were so many people and agencies on the ground there. And he [cameraman Simon Hydzik] put the drone up. He asked permission. He said, “yeah, let’s do it.” Ok, we put it up, what, a 10–11-storey building. And instantly the building came into frame, we sort of looked at each other and went, “Jesus that’s a great piece to camera backdrop. Let’s do.”

Scuttled up the fire escape and, you know, 30 seconds later, we were on the roof. Simon’s an extremely fast operator with this thing. I thought of some words and all up it took about eight minutes. And there’s cinematic quality to that thing. It illustrated with just laser focus exactly what the issue was that we’re trying to talk about.

As a viewer, you couldn’t take your eyes off that thing. And you were listening to the words watching the sheer devastation, [the] impact of that cruise missile on that building that day, and how many lives ruined. It just captured it in 10–12 seconds.  

Chris Reason (reporting)
But with 144 apartments, almost 600 residents, this attack could have been so much worse.  

Nick Bryant
I remember watching that piece to camera and thinking, it’s a shame that Chris hasn’t got a global platform. It’s brilliant to see that that went viral. And then there was another moment too.  

Chris Reason (reporting)
Putin says he’s only targeting military targets.  

Vitali Klitschko, mayor of Kyiv
Bullshit! Sorry. Where’s military target? This building is built on target? 

Nick Bryant
And that was the mayor of Kyiv in a clip, that again, just went viral. It just went nuts, didn’t it? Did you sense at the time it would travel so far? 

Chris Reason
No, not at all. It was it was a great grab and, you know, to journalists who didn’t know when a great grab comes along, I ended the interview straight after that. But with three questions in I was gonna hold him for 5-10 minutes and I didn’t need to. That was the grab, I knew that was gonna be run and rerun. And when I threw that question at him, I didn’t know it’d be as provocative as it was. And remember, Klitschko is the former world boxing champion, and when he heard that question, he stopped and he squares up at me. And I thought, I’m about to find out why he was the world boxing champion.

He was, he was, he looked like he was filthy angry with me. And he was… and I stood there, and he just spat out those words. Yeah, BS. Take a look around you. Does this look like a military target? Obviously not. So anyway, so we put that to air in Australia, and we got a lot of feedback about it, what a great grab. And then camera friend of mine in London, texted me said, ‘Whack that up on social.’ And two, three days later, we did and the result was phenomenal. And it took off and it grabbed a life of its own. It was like a piece of verbal shrapnel ricocheting around the world. It was straight out of that war zone. And it just — at 8.5 million views last time I looked — it said something. It really captured something that people felt about the Russian excuse for going to war and their entire war and foreign policy. He captured it in six seconds. 

Washington Post videos
So when videos and images appeared online claiming to show massive explosions and other scenes from the Russian attack on Ukraine, we stepped in to fact check them.  

Since the Russian invasion into Ukraine began, we have been working around the clock to verify video coming in from social.

There’s a couple of steps to this. First, we log the video just so we have an archive for internal research. 

Nick Bryant
While reporters on the ground are embracing a new tools of the trade, like Telegram and drones, the international media watching from afar faces the challenge of verifying the avalanche of data coming through. Because with each new technology comes new ways they can be misused. 

Sarah Cahlan
My name is Sarah Cahlan and I am a video reporter on the visual forensics team at The Washington Post. 

Nick Bryant
Now visual forensics is a term that maybe many would associate with something out of Law and Order rather than something in a newsroom. Just explain what you do. 

Sarah Cahlan
Yeah, that’s a good point. I feel like when I say that a lot of people ask if I work in a crime lab. But visual forensics at The Washington Post is a team where we analyse and verify videos and use that to answer questions about large news events. And by doing so, we’re hoping that we can hold those who created some of these travesties accountable.  

TikTok videos
So I decided to do this media work, as we call it.  

And because of TikTok, 14 million people have seen what it’s like to live in Ukraine and what we feel.  

Sarah Cahlan
So a lot of the videos that we’re seeing are coming from user generated content. It’s amazing that you know, we have these cameras in our pocket, that aren’t able to record in such high definition that we’re able to pull out as much detail as possible. So that’s coming from people on the ground, you know, someone is an apartment building, they see a rocket and they just pull out their camera, and they start filming, and they put that on social media. And there’s also government officials: there’s firefighters, there’s emergency responders. Everyone is, you know, recording everything that they see, so that the world is aware of what’s happening. And also, you know, video isn’t the only piece of evidence. And we’re also looking, you know, we’re looking at satellite imagery, we’ll look at flight data, we’ll look at, you know, you can look at shipping data, you can also look at the NASA Fire Map to see you know, if we’re trying to understand if there’s like a large explosion, we can go in there and see like, oh wow, there’s like, a lot of fire activity around this area, let’s keep digging. So there’s a lot of threads that we’re pulling, sometimes it feels a little bit like that meme where the guy’s standing and there’s a board behind them and just red strings everywhere. So you’re just really pulling out pieces of evidence and trying to pull it together so you can really understand what’s happening on the ground. 

Nick Bryant
And what’s extraordinary is, it sounds like you’re getting a sort of front row seat on history, even though you’re thousands of miles away, and an ocean apart, in a Washington newsroom. 

Sarah Cahlan
It really does. Yeah. And, you know, when you are doing something like that, you have to be aware that what you’re seeing is a sliver of what is actually happening. You know, we don’t, sometimes don’t know what necessarily happened before someone hit record or after, we’re only seeing what the camera is able to see.

You know, we try to find as many angles as possible. But it’s really important to realise that, you know, this is the first records of history. So we, of course are going to only write what we see in the video, we are going to only report on information that we are able to verify. But it is also good for us to remember that there’s much more out there. Because we’re working so quickly, more answers will emerge as the days go on, as the weeks as months, as we look back and learn more about this conflict. 

Nick Bryant
Sarah, your work came into its own in the suburb of Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, when we saw those shocking images of dead Ukrainian civilian bodies by the side of the road after the Russian withdrawal. And I wonder, Sarah, how you reacted to those pictures. And I wondered how you went about verifying whether those were real or not. 

Sarah Cahlan
So I reacted like almost everyone: I was horrified with those images. But put on our journalism hat and went about verifying.

We were lucky enough to have colleagues on the ground who were able to provide images that were able to verify what we were seeing in the videos that were coming out on social media. We also were able to use satellite imagery to be able to determine the date of these videos and that they were filmed during the Russian occupation. We were also able to get additional eyewitness statements to be able to corroborate the visuals we were seeing. We were able to pull some metadata from some footage that we were able to gather. 

Nick Bryant
Now I’m watching one of the videos Sara’s talking about. This one is in Bucha. It’s a bird’s eye view, it’s taken from about 100 metres up and you can actually see the dead bodies at the side of the road. It’s disturbing video. And when the Kremlin came out claiming those deaths in Bucha were fake news, Sarah and her team at The Washington Post were able to use those verification methods to prove that Putin was lying.  

What I find so fascinating about your work is you’re not just an after-the-fact verification process, it seems to me you’re also a real time early warning system. I mean, are there moments when you’re telling the newsroom, ‘you’ve got to be watching what I’m watching right now, I think we’re in the midst of a big story, it’s unfolding before my eyes?’ 

Sarah Cahlan
Yes, we have. There are many instances where we are watching a live stream — we just follow certain people who we know are going to be in a place where there’s some event occurring and we are going to immediately alert the newsroom: hey, take a look at this.  

TikTok video
Now everyone should be critical of every information source, especially from the government but discrediting journalistic integrity on the basis that we’re TikTokers alone isn’t completely fair. 

Nick Bryant
Sarah, this conflict has been described as the first TikTok war. Volodymyr Zelensky has tried to summon a TikTok army he’s encouraging people to get on TikTok and tell their own stories of the atrocities that the Russians are committing. Joe Biden actually held a briefing for TikTok influencers in America, which was mocked by a lot of White House correspondents, but these younger influencers said, well we’re the White House correspondents of Generation Z[ed], Generation Z[ee] as you would say.

What do you make of that characterisation of Ukraine as the first TikTok war? 

 Sarah Cahlan
Ukraine is a conflict that is very much so being played out on social media. TikTok is one of the social media platforms that a lot of these videos are being published, it is also a conflict on the ground and also a conflict in the information space. So governments have been using, influencers have been using, video to try to push certain narratives. So I think that it is true that this is a war that we are seeing in real time on all of the social media outlets.

We definitely look at TikTok for videos, we look at Telegram, we look at every single social media platform. We’re looking beyond social media platforms. We don’t want to leave any stone unturned when we are trying to document what is occurring. But I do agree that it is something that we are seeing play out more and more on social media and because of the access of phones with cameras for all ages, even young people who use TikTok, they are able to capture this and a lot of times they want to share it. They want to share with the world and, you know, we’re here to make sure that that information is verified and accurate and then provide further context to the general public. 

Nick Bryant
The burden of covering the war weighs especially heavily on local Ukrainian journalists, many of their colleagues have been forced to leave the country. Many are having to deal with the personal upheaval of having their homes and neighbourhoods bombed and sometimes occupied by Russian forces.

Myra Remazhevska is an editor-turned-war reporter at Slidstvo.info, a Ukrainian investigative journalism website based in Kyiv. She took me back to the morning the war began. 

Liubomyra Remazhevska
I woke up early morning at five o’clock. My mum woke me up by phone call and she told me that the war started. I wasn’t able to believe her because everybody was preparing for war at that time, but it was too fast. You never know where the worst when the worst starts, you know, and then I hang up, checked all official sources, checked my work chat and then I felt, okay, the war’s started. So what should we do?

We joined together to the Zoom call with all my colleagues at eight o’clock in the morning, and then we try to decide how we should work with all this stuff.

So a lot of people wanted to flee from Kyiv because it was too dangerous. And it was okay because we are journalists, we need to do our work. And we, some of us are not war reporters, so they wanted to, to do their job from the safe place. But I decided to stay.

I have been living in Kyiv since 2007. So I can call Kyiv my hometown now and where I am, I can work, I should do my work properly. So that’s why I wanted to stay in Kyiv. And the second was that I have three cats and this is very difficult to move somewhere with such a luggage you know.  

Nick Bryant
That’s a lovely reason, a very valid reason to stay behind. But staying behind became very difficult for you because your home neighbourhood was actually occupied by the Russians. 

Liubomyra Remazhevska
Yes, Russians had been 20 kilometers from Kyiv. So that was quite difficult. 

Nick Bryant
So where did you live? How did you operate? Where have you been staying all these weeks? 

Liubomyra Remazhevska
The second day of war, I moved to my office with my friend and colleague, whom we worked with through all this events which happened during the war, Alexander.

On the second day of war, it was sabotage group in my district. I heard shotguns and automates and so on. And that is why we decided to move to a safer place. I packed all my stuff, packed my cats, and moved to office where I lived for two months. 

Nick Bryant
So your place of work has become your place of refuge.  

Liubomyra Remazhevska
Yes.  

Nick Bryant
And Myra, describe to me the experience of covering a war in your homeland.

It’s a very different thing than being a foreign correspondent, and flying in, and also having the opportunity of getting out. Covering a war in, in a homeland, there is no escape. There is no place of safe refuge. I wonder if you’d describe to me how that feels. 

Liubomyra Remazhevska
It’s much more easy and much more difficult at the same time. Because, it’s difficult because somebody came to your country, started shelling, started bombing, started killing people, torturing people.

Every person you meet, you suffer with that person together. You live their story.

It’s difficult because a lot of journalists they say the position, that the journalist should be like only a narrator and spectator, but you cannot stay apart of the situation. So a lot of my colleagues during covering war, they saved people lives. When the shelling started, they went to different locations and help people there, giving them some medical aid.

They stayed in this village and one old man, he was 76-years-old, he broke his collarbone. And we together we basically we found out all medical aid and tried to provide it to him because it was important job he was doing but you know, it’s not journalism. It’s like you live all this stuff together.

At the same time, it’s more easy to cover war in your own country because people need sympathy. They hear you speak the same language they feel your sympathy and they are now more open minded and more open to you. So they tell their stories more eagerly. 

Nick Bryant
It must be very difficult for you as a Ukrainian journalist to be unemotional at this time. 

Liubomyra Remazhevska
You cannot be unemotional because if you are unemotional, you cannot relive this story you heard, and you cannot report well, because you need to bypass the story. But you cannot do it. When you think it over, you can give spectators and readers the emotion, which was felt by the person who told the story. And this is very important thing, because you cannot only report the events, you report human stories. And this is quite difficult to deal with. Because any day you meet people who suffer harshly, from what every day you live their stories, you report their stories. And everyday the story is new. 

Nick Bryant
Myra, I wonder whether at any stage, over the course of the war, you have regretted your decision to stay. That there were moments when you wish you just got your cats and left Kyiv and sought refuge, maybe over the border in Poland or in other parts of Ukraine which aren’t in the forefront of the battle? 

Liubomyra Remazhevska
No, I haven’t such a thought in my mind, because I know that my work and the work of my colleagues is very important. And then I know that time if I won’t stay, there will be not so many people who are able to do this. 

Nick Bryant
Chris, however seasoned the correspondent, you are and however many conflicts and disasters and stories you’ve covered. I think you never stop learning. I think, you know, our profession is a lifelong apprenticeship. But I wonder what lessons you take away from your experience in Ukraine? 

Chris Reason
The experience you get in a war like that really needs to be passed on. There’s all sorts of really practical things. I mean, it’s the nuts and bolts stuff of you know, the obvious things, not walking on soft ground, looking out for mines.

Another one I learned while I was over there: keep your mouth open if a missile does explode near you, otherwise, your internal organ organ damage if you keep your mouth closed, and little little things like that. How to use social media to gain the advantage of being in the right spot — those key little lessons that you can pass on. 

Nick Bryant
Lyse, the finest correspondents, I always think, are the empathetic correspondents. And you’ve said that empathy should always be a part of foreign reporting, but not emotion. And I wonder how difficult that has been during this conflict. As you have watched the atrocities that have been committed by the Russian army, as you’ve watched the war crimes that Vladimir Putin has clearly been guilty of. I wonder, you know, we’ve all been enraged by that. I wonder journalistically, how you contain that sense of revulsion and rage.  

Lyse Doucet
There was a moment when somehow the issue of emotion became an issue in journalism. And of course, it’s connected to the age-old issue of whether journalists can be objective. Is every reporting subjective? It also comes within a trend within journalism where the journalists becomes part of the story. So the journalists fear, sometimes even their tears is not just part of the story, it becomes the story, which I think should never, never happen.

Journalists should never lose their sense of where they are standing. They’re standing to tell the other stories, they shouldn’t be the centre of the story. But also, if, if you give way to your emotions, you’re giving way that you’ve lost control of your ability to somehow understand the mood but not to, you know, to overtake the mood, you lose control. And that’s very different from empathy. Empathy is something where you feel the sense of the moment the pain of the situation, the outrageous nature of the situation, the shocking nature of the situation, and somehow to convey what it feels like to be there, and why it matters to people far away, who are also trying to make sense of this moment. 

Nick Bryant
If the pictures out of Ukraine were rendered in black and white, they would look like scenes from the Second World War. But this has been a very 21st century conflict and the arsenal of democracy now includes social media platforms like Telegram, TikTok and YouTube. The use of this new media has helped produce two of the big surprises of the war, the galvanising leadership of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the remarkable resilience of the Ukrainian people. They have shaped their own narratives. They have told their own stories, and they haven’t needed us as reporters to do it for them.

But whatever the technology and whatever the platform journalism relies on journalists, members of our worldwide industry who are prepared to take risks. We couldn’t end this episode without paying tribute to those who have lost their lives. At least seven journalists have been killed covering the war in Ukraine. And the Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating whether at least five others were killed because of their work in Russia. May their sacrifice never be forgotten. May that determination to bear witness serve always as an inspiration. 

Journo was produced by Deadset Studios for the Judith Neilson Institute, which supports quality journalism and storytelling around the world.You can find out more about the Institute’s programs and events at jninstitute.org.

Make sure you follow the podcast on your podcasting app, so you’re alerted each time we release a new episode.

Our Executive Producer is Rachel Fountain. Our producers of Grace Pashley and Britta Jorgensen. Sound design is by Krissy Miltiadou. Our Managing Editor is Kelly Riordon and our Commissioning Editor is Andrea Ho at the Judith Neilson Institute, and I’m Nick Bryant. 

Lyse Doucet
We want to be there and it is physical it is you feel it right in your guts I call it this pain, this pain which tells us something is happening and we need. No we want to be there. 

Nick Bryant
I felt that pang very strongly over the last couple of months watching from afar in Australia.

Lyse Doucet
It doesn’t go away does it Nick? 

Nick Bryant
It really doesn’t even when you think you’ve hung up your boots you. 

Lyse Doucet
You don’t hang up your boots I’m afraid. Your boots you walk in those boots. Once you’ve walked in those boots, the boots go walking with you. 

Nick Bryant
Next time on Journo. The Australian election has put the media in the spotlight almost as much as the politicians have we as journalists made a dismal campaign even worse?