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PDN: What To Expect If You’re Injured on Assignment

A new article in PDN approaches this unanswered question.


“…As for the clients, when contacted by PDN they were uniformly unwilling to talk. Editors and spokespeople either declined to speak for publication or were simply unreachable. 
“We don’t discuss personnel matters,” said Daniel Kile, executive director of public relations for Time.

“They just don’t like me talking about it,” explained an editor at another publication.

At The New York Times, which has been praised for hiring long-time freelancer Silva as a staffer after he lost both his legs below the knees to a landmine, an editor was similarly reluctant to say anything.


“[Photographers] assume—especially with publications that they have good relationships with—you make this assumption that they are going to take care of you if something happens,” says Ron Haviv, a photographer with VII Photo Agency who has covered conflicts around the world.  “But I don’t think anyone knows in the end what will happen when you start getting people outside our circle involved, like lawyers and corporate people.”

Haviv has it right there, says one editor who was willing to discuss the subject, thanks to having moved on to a job in academia.  Tom Kennedy, Alexia Foundation Chair Professor for Documentary Photography at Syracuse, has worked as director of photography for National Geographic and editor for Washingtonpost.com.  

“I don’t know that there is an industry standard,” Kennedy says. “I think it’s very much company by company, and I think it is somewhat contingent obviously on what company practice is as dictated by lawyers.” Corporate lawyers may overrule photo editors who want to do what they can for colleagues…

by teru kuwayama at 2011-05-04 16:34:46 UTC | Bookmark | | Report spam→


by teru kuwayama | 04 May 2011 16:05 | New York City, United States | | Report spam→
The link didn’t work, but I found this one. http://www.pdnonline.com/pdn/features/What-To-Expect-If-Yo-2568.shtml.

Great read, thanks Teru.

by Andri Tambunan | 04 May 2011 18:05 | Sacramento, United States | | Report spam→
Here is an article from NYT lens blog; an interview by Keller with Silva and Marinovich:


The exchange:

Keller: I wanted to ask whether you had any thoughts on what the boss’s obligations are — the people who send you off to do this and who pay you.

Silva: I think the obligations are clear. If you send anybody into these zones, then you’re committed to full responsibility for that person. Good or bad. If that person gets blown up, as I did, then I think it’s the employer’s responsibility, too. And if I screw up and drag The New York Times’s name through the mud, it’s equal responsibility.

Keller: I certainly agree with that. Don’t you think we also have an obligation to make clear that when we say the standard line — that no story is worth your life — that we actually mean it?

Silva: Sure. I understand that. When I got blown up, I wasn’t pushing the envelope. On those numerous patrols that I’ve been on, I’ve shot numerous pictures like those, which were — for the most part — pretty damn boring. Pictures become pretty damn repetitive. That was what the story was about: the changing face of the war. I don’t think anyone wants to get blown up for a picture. Nobody wants to get shot for a picture. That wasn’t Chris or Tim’s motive that morning. They didn’t wake up that morning thinking, “I’m going to push the envelope today like I’ve never pushed it before.” You’re following guys with guns. You do whatever they do. You go wherever they go. You have to follow them. That’s what they’re doing. You’re caught up in that vortex, and you follow through. I think we clearly understand that.

Marinovich: I think there are employers who understand what putting someone in a conflict zone means and there are employers who have no clue. And there are employers who understand and don’t care. And then there are employers who think, “Well, it’s up to the person on the ground to make the final call, essentially.” Which it is.
The problem is that it becomes technically tricky. Do you look after somebody because they’re on staff, or do you look after somebody because they are doing it for you? I’m not just talking about The New York Times, I’m generally talking. If you hire somebody for 24 hours to go and report for your staff writer in a war zone, I think you have to be prepared to accept the responsibility. Or don’t do it. You want those people to know that you support them, and what that support means. It mustn’t be vague. It mustn’t be dependent on good will or their relationship. It must be crystal clear: these are the guidelines. A lot of the people who get injured are freelancers.
This was one of the reasons I stopped. Because every time I got wounded, I was freelance. The first time was for Newsweek, who took no responsibility whatsoever. They paid for the medical bill. The other times were all freelance. For months, you’re out of commission. The world moves on, and you’re in this stupid position. I’m a very firm believer that when I’m assigning and employing someone to do a job, via work-for-hire or permanent staffer, you have to accept what you want to get out of them.
Some organizations are very serious about that and have taken people who are put in conflict zones into training courses, which is great. It will all help. The converse of that is that if you want to go out and do conflict zones, you must also accept responsibility for that for yourself. You have a choice. You can say yes or no. You can’t become bitter and twisted. These are the choices you make. It’s difficult. The world has turned into a place where it’s all work-for-hire. Organizations need to take responsibility.



by David Bro | 05 May 2011 15:05 (ed. May 5 2011) | Orange County, california, United States | | Report spam→
In the last decade, I have seen the practices of supporting freelancers and contract journalists who are injured or imperiled on assignment change somewhat…usually for the better. But Ron is quite right…it still often depends on whether you are in the inner circle of people working for a publication. It also depends on how substantial the publications is – fly-by-night operations don’t even consider it. Finally, I also have to say that it, sadly, sometimes depends for some publications on whether you are from the US or Europe. But that discussion is for another thread here.

If you are a freelancer headed to a conflict zone on assignment, I would do two things.

First, I would get some war zone insurance (a mix of medical and other casualty insurance). I recall that some of the international journalist organizations offer the opportunity to purchase that as a benefit of membership. And, such war zone insurance is often available just for the period when you are in, or going to and from, a conflict area.

Second, I would have a candid discussion with the photo editor about what they will do for you if you get into trouble. You are entitled to know what your situation is. If they say that they will provide you with some benefits, I suggest you then send an email back to the editor describing them, saying something like “I’m just confirming our conversation about what you will offer on this assignment for work-related problems, which you said includes [for example] medical treatment, airlift or other transportation,…” That will at least give you a claim that you relied on that representation when you took the assignment. And I would not tell them that you have war zone insurance from a private source.

If you are not being formally assigned by the publication, but they are just willing to pick up your pics as they like them, don’t count on any support. That is where the private insurance will come in.

by [former member] | 05 May 2011 16:05 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
hi Neal – you had a pretty unique perspective, given your previous experience as the legal counsel for a major news organization.

What do you make of the unwillingness to discuss policy, as described in the PDN article? Does it seem possible that no policy exists at all these companies?

The Keller/Silva/Marinovich conversation quoted above is an important and interesting one – but they’re basically having a philosophical discussion about a scenario that has already happened many times, over many years.

On a positive note, Keller seems to agree with Silva and Marinovich about the basic concept of employer responsibility – he’s said as much to me as well.

The gap seems to be in the details – especially when it comes to distinctions being made between staff, freelancers, local and international, contractors and subcontractors (ie: drivers, translators, fixers hired by freelancers). I know this is an issue that concerns you also.

As a lawyer, can you imagine that the legal department at the NYT and other news organizations have never examined these questions?

by teru kuwayama | 06 May 2011 13:05 | New York City, United States | | Report spam→
Teru, it’s a very tough one. I cannot say anything about NPR other than their own sensitivities have improved enormously over the last few years, especially as to foreign journalists (once called fixers, translators, etc.).

The legal issues are hideously complicated, and every law department of a news org has looked at it I am sure. Normally an employed journalist will be covered by mandatory workman’s compensation while in the US…but what happens when they go out of the US and are injured? Usually the workman’s comp insurance does not cover that, especially if they live outside of the US.

All this is made worse by a history of difficulty in getting war zone insurance coverage for organizations (sometimes it’s been easier for individuals through groups). I once tried to find out the coverage some of the other major news organizations had for their war-zone reporters and, surprisingly, was stonewalled. That led me to wonder whether they had any at all. One person told me off the record that they had a period during which they could not get insurance in Iraq, and they calculated that the cost of an uninsured reporter’s death in Iraq would be upwards of $1 million (I recall hearing that the org soon after that got insurance). That’s a big number, by any standard.

For journalists who are not employees (meaning contractors or freelancers), my guess is they are rarely covered at all by insurance. So as morally committed as editorial people may be, the people in the financial offices of news organizations may be thinking of that $1 million number (probably less for foreign journalists, just given the differences of cost of living).

I am sure that Keller means what he says, but because of the numbers involved he could be overruled on this kind of thing where the NYT is not legally bound. I have speculated (purely speculation) that the reason Silva was put on the payroll of the NYT (he was a freelancer on assignment before, I was told) after the injury was to overcome some internal pushback, i.e. Keller and Ryan were told by the NYT Suits that they could not do a long-term payout for Silva as a freelancer, so they said, [expletive deleted] you, Mr. Bean Counter, we’ll just hire him and spend some Times money on him in a different way! The Suit then said, OK, if that’s how you want to spend your budget, that’s your call.

Again I stress that I have NO facts to back that up – it’s pure wild-ass speculation. But it is a plausible scenario IMO. And either way, it is clear to me at least that Keller and Ryan spent some of their valuable personal goodwill within the company (and company money as well) on helping Silva (who won’t be able to work at full throttle for some time, if ever), when they could have done otherwise.

by [former member] | 06 May 2011 14:05 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Just got around to reading Bill Keller’s piece on the risks, and his views of news management’s responsibilities, with respect to conflict photographers. It appeared online yesterday but seems to be headed for this Sunday’s NY Times Magazine. It offers a good supplement to the thoughts in this post. http://nyti.ms/iMI6Ym

by [former member] | 07 May 2011 01:05 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Oh the irony…

“This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 7, 2011

An essay this weekend on Page 11, about photographers who cover wars, refers imprecisely to Chris Hondros, a photographer who was killed last month while covering Libya’s rebel militia. He was a senior staff photographer for the Getty Images agency, not a freelancer. The essay also misstates the year that Joao Silva was on assignment for The New York Times in Najaf, Iraq. It was 2004, not 2006."

by [former member] | 07 May 2011 15:05 | | Report spam→
Having worked in a number of global corporations in my career, I have been party to the machinations involved with employees injured or worse in countries and in situations that were life threatening. In all cases the vast cost involved in rescuing them was not so much the medical bills, but rather the huge cost of medivac to their own countries.
In our industry I can well believe that contractors or freelancers way well enjoy less comprehensive indemnity than official employees. The latter would be covered by global health insurance that is part of the global health cover taken out on their behalf. The former could also be considered covered if they were acting on an official assignment and at the dirction and control of their principal.
Unfortunately those who enter areas of risk on their own volition would be at the mercy of whatever medical facilities their area of operations had available. Certainly, medical evacuation would be very difficult unless an injured person could make some arrangements through their embassy, any associated armed forces or a friendly NGO.
I can only speak for areas where Australian forces were on active duty. I also know that Australia has only committed special forces to Iraq and Afghanistan, and no journalists to my knowledge are allowed to be embedded with them due to secrecy rules on the identity of individual soldiers in Australia’s special forces. That rule applies whether they are deployed or at home.
Thus the decision for an independent journalist to pursue the rich material that is offered in a war zone also will come with the higher risk involved. If I was the underwriter for a health insurance company I would price cover in a war zone at the upper end of the range, if at all.
I have an opportunity to spend some time in Gaza and my enquiries about medical cover have been met with a polite brick wall, and I understand why. The decision to go will be mine alone.

by Stephen Asprey | 08 May 2011 06:05 | Sydney, Australia | | Report spam→
I missed this story but it seems pretty accurate:


by [former member] | 11 May 2011 14:05 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
hi Neal, thanks for that info on insurance – it’s probably the most specific that I’ve seen – and actually looks more affordable than other policies I’d heard about. I passed it on to CPJ. will also check out the NYT link as well. best T

by teru kuwayama | 12 May 2011 16:05 | New York City, United States | | Report spam→
Here is an excellent article on this subject from the Poynter Institute:


by [former member] | 19 May 2011 02:05 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→

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teru kuwayama, I/O teru kuwayama
New York , United States
Andri Tambunan, Documentary Photographer Andri Tambunan
Documentary Photographer
(Available for Assignments)
Jakarta , Indonesia
David Bro, freelance editorial David Bro
freelance editorial
Orange County , United States ( LAX )
Stephen Asprey, Photojournalist Stephen Asprey
(Visual Journalism)
Sydney , Australia


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