How does one become a war correspondant?

Is it difficult to get assigned as a war correspondant? Or does the willingness to go into a dangerous area make it easier to get? How does one go about it? I mean obviously one would need a journalistic background, but other than that, what do you need to do to become one?


To become an accredited war correspondant, you must first have someone (a newspaper, wire service, magazine, radio network, etc.) willing to purchase your work. The military won’t even consider accrediting you without that. Getting one of them to hire you is something else, again. Generally, covering a war is considered a plum assignment and everybody that is involved with the business wants to do it, so your competition is intense. That is the reason you generally see the bylines of the top writers covering the different wars.

Occasionally, if you are in the right place at the right time it can help. I was doing a feature piece on life in northern Isreal when the Yom Kipper War broke out thus making me one of a handful of professional journalists within shooting distance of one of the fronts, so I had a number of very big names asking me to write and shoot for them.

Ditto everything TV time said. Right place right time is often critical.

It also depends whether you want to try and freelance as a war correspondent, or whether you are already employed by a news organisation that wants to send you to the front lines. The second is obviously easier. In terms of who most news organisations would send?

A reliable, experienced staff member, most preferably one with specialist knowledge of the country/region under war, and/or previous experience as a war correspondent.

Heh, that’s what I figured. I am interested in the field, but I figured the competition would probably be intense. Do either of you have any tips on what to do? Study your ass off probably being a good idea.

What about being freelance? Footing your own bill and just hoping for those amazing shots and amazing interviews to sell to a big publication?

Someone told me that joining the military as a correspondant is a good way to get your foot in the door. What about that?


Freelance tends to be a problem because, in order to be a correspondent, you need to get access, which includes access to the country in which there happens to be a war. You also need to be credentialed, which means you need to work for a “legitimate” news organization. The Pentagon decides what is a “legitimate” news organization. P.J. O’Rourke wrote about all this in Give War a Chance.

For this angle, I’d talk to a couple people. A military recruiter would be a start, but they tend to lie. Another good person would be Gorgon Heap. Keep in mind that, as a military journalist, you’re military. You do not get to choose what stories you get to cover; the military tells you what information you can release and what you can’t; you can’t even be guaranteed access into a war zone. You also have to maintain proper military standards. That means you must meet physical standards, whatever training standards your service requires, and unit readiness.

Something else I’d like to say here is that if you’re in a war zone, you’re subject to the same rigors that a soldier is. You must obey the laws of the country where you happen to be assigned; you might be out in the middle of nowhere for God knows how long; you still have to deal with censorship of your stories; and you may very well be in physical danger. Correspondents can and are killed and kidnapped.

Before you do anything, I suggest you read everything you can get your hands on by and about war correspondents. You might also talk to some journalism professors (Columbia’s journalism school is very well-regarded, so you can start there) and get some good perspective from them.

Good luck.


Hmm, thanks, interesting stuff to think about.


This reminds me of much of the movie Good Morning Vietnam (which you should see if you haven’t)

Yeah, I’ve seen both Good Morning Vietnam and Full Metal Jacket.