'The Web is freedom'--Q&A with Michael Yon (Part 2 of 2)
Published: April 6, 2010
Kay B. Day
Michael Yon’s status as a war correspondent has earned him respect from all political corners. In our last column, we explored his background and career. In this column, Yon offers advice that applies well to budding war correspondents and writers in general.
Q.: You mention on your Web site you didn't think of yourself as a
war correspondent, but as a writer. Share just a little bit about your
life before you began to cover the war.
Insofar as the title "war correspondent," that certainly is what I have
been doing for more than five years, and I will sometimes use the
appellation as shorthand. Many journalists like to fashion themselves
as war correspondents. The title brings respect, even great respect, in
that community. Yet I am not a journalist and never have been.
Michael Yon, courtesy of Michael Yon Online
openly take sides. Rather than trying to spackle over bias, I chose to
admit to bias so that readers are better informed about the source. I
cannot write without bias when my country is at war, any more than
someone could write without bias about their own mother. If this were a
war between the Hutus and the Tutsis, I could write completely without
bias because I do not know them, and have no future with them.
this is a difference: a "real" war correspondent might jet off to write
about obscure wars in obscure places. I would not. I hate war, and will
only get involved when the United States, our interests, or an
important ally is in trouble. I am not a journalist pretending to be a
war correspondent, but a writer wearing those boots for now. When this
is over, I will not be found chasing obscure, never-ending wars in a
vacuous quest to change human nature. Leave that to the war
correspondents, and I will read their work.
On a final note,
Western journalists who claim they can write about the Iraq or
Afghanistan wars without bias are either too uninformed to listen to,
Q.: Do you think you could do what you do if
it weren't for the Web? I figure your being able to work as an
independent, rather than as a staffer for a major media outlet, is
directly tied to that?
A.: Few major publications
likely would publish my work sight unseen. Journalists are tame
creatures, while I am no more tamable than a wild beast. One editor
said she would like me to join her stable. I laughed. I don't work
for editors; they work for me, or we don't work together. A writer who
works for an editor is not on point; the editor, back in New York or
London or Madrid, is on point. The situation is reversed, and I believe
this largely explains the sad, failing state of newspapers. The Web is
Q.: You seem to have a serious kinship with your readers. Why?
My relationship with readers is close. Many, if not most, are
viscerally involved in the outcome of the Afghanistan war, for
instance. Many are unashamed of American and Western success, and make
no apologies for their success, but are grateful to have had the grace
and opportunity to improve their lives and that of their children. Many
are true believers in Western freedoms. Many are true believers in
earned merit, hard work and self-determination, yet they are generous
and gain deep satisfaction in seeing others improve in their own lives.
I respect such people.
Q.: What is the greatest challenge for you in trying to do your work?
Besides getting killed or worse, I've overcome most of the other
challenges and those are now behind me. My access to various levels of
various governments grows steadily. Operations become more
straightforward with experience. Now it's down to keeping on keeping
on until the war is over.
Q.: Any advice to aspiring war correspondents or writers in general?
A.: Embedding with combat forces in Iraq and now Afghanistan was/is far more dangerous than going alone.
people think it's safer with combat troops. This is not so. It's also
typically more difficult to stay with troops than to go alone.
would suggest that aspiring war correspondents not try to go without
media affiliation, as I have done, unless they are very confident in
their problem-solving abilities.They must be emotionally stable and
comfortable with being alone or with strangers almost constantly, for
months on end, with no immediate support structure.
I would suggest they work for a traditional publication, come in under that umbrella, assess the field and make a decision.
my knowledge, no other independent has successfully gone this
route--truly wearing war correspondent boots for months and years on
end, actually in combat. Some have pulled off short stints and then
ejected from the battlefield after realizing how challenging this is.
is expensive, difficult, dangerous, lonely work, requiring imagination
and a tendency toward action. You are on your own. Free to fail, free
to live or die, free to succeed.
If any of this was
intimidating, this is not for you. If you were not intimidated, and
believe working deep inside a war is for you, there is a slight chance
you will succeed, but still a greater chance you will not.
• Yon tells war stories as he sees and lives them
Part 1 of a two-part feature on war correspondent Michael Yon [Web Savvy at WriterMag.com]
• Michael Yon Online
Magazine style site with intriguing photos and real time dispatches from the front
• Michael Yon Facebook Page
More than 20,000 fans keep up with Yon’s dispatches here in addition to the posts at his website.
In our next Web Savvy, we consider the challenge of bringing your reader back for more.
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for
The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International,
The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To learn more about Kay Day, see www.kayday.com. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.