Wednesday, December 1, 2010

MacMillan: "We Can't Seem to Agree if We Need More War Coverage or Less."

JIM MACMILLAN WENT to Iraq because he wanted to be a part of that story, to show the world what was happening there. He was influenced by the Vietnam-era images that changed the tide of public sentiment and he wanted to do something similar in Iraq.

He had spent two decades honing his craft as a photojournalist prior to going to the Middle East. He attended hostile environment training in preparation, learning about weapons and crisis situations.

"I thought I was ready," he said yesterday in class. "I had no idea what I was in for."

During his year covering the war as a photojournalist with the Associated Press, Jim survived three roadside attacks, two car bomb explosions, a kidnapping attempt and a bullet that struck his helmet. Plus he slept on cardboard (when he was lucky), spent days on end in a cramped Bradley Fighting Vehicle, he lost 40 pounds because of the intense heat and unusual food, and he became friendly with numerous members of the military who were killed in action.

"The cost of war is incalculable," he said.

What he witnessed has had a psychological impact on him, and he studies the impact of war journalism on the public. Everyone is impacted differently - for some, seeing violent images desensitizes them to such atrocities. For others, it pushes them to take action. And there are countless reactions in between.

"We can't seem to agree if we need more war coverage or less," he said.

Here are a few other things he said that stood out to me:

• Being embedded with the troops was "like seeing life through a straw, incomplete."
• But by the time he arrived in Iraq, it wasn't safe to travel alone as a Western journalist.
• He rode on 225 combat missions, ranging from 5 minutes to two weeks, though most lasted around 2 hours.
• There was constant stress - sniper fire and attacks while with troops, and from his apartment, he could hear shelling.
• Because he was with troops so often, he formed friendships with many soldiers. But he was still able to craft images that were objective, he said.
• When he became too comfortable with a unit, he traveled with a different unit.
• Other Associated Press photographers documented the insurgents.
• Jim and a team of AP photographers were awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the most prestigious award in print journalism, for their coverage. "You can't celebrate the award," he said. "I feel relieved but it doesn't get you anywhere."

• He started as an art school student. Then he got a police scanner and started freelancing spot news to newspapers in Boston.
• In recent years, he has developed video skills.
• He's also very engaged in social networking.

What stood out for you?


Mark Longacre said...

I liked him a lot. He seemed very passionate about his work, and the presentation was informal, but its obvious he put a lot of thought into it. I didn't feel like he was reading from a set of notes like some of the other speakers (not that there was anything wrong with them), but he just told us about his experience in Iraq. It was interesting and very informative.

Jonathan said...

For me, what stood out was that a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist saying that objectivity (in its current form) is unworkable. He went into more detail after class to those who stuck around, but he said "You can't be in a war and not have an opinion of it." Sounds like common sense, but in essence it's the standard we hold journalists to.

Camille Mola said...

I really enjoyed Jim's presentation. It was extremely powerful and had an effect on me that I did not expect at all. What stood out for me the most was just his absolute dedication and passion he has for his job, I truly admire him for that. Not many people can do what he does, myself included, and for this I commend him for his dedication to his work.

Jacob Colon said...

What struck me most about Jim's presentation was that he was in Iraq for a year and suffered severe physical and psychological damage, while there are some journalists who have been going to the Middle East (or other international conflict zones) for 10 to 20 years. Besides their likely desires to document history and be active members in these conflicts, I wonder what, on a psychological level, draws 20-year veteran war journalists to such a career. Do they live for the thrill? Do they subconsciously find excitement in being in the midst of heavy gunfire?

I thought I wanted cover the Middle Eastern conflict as a photojournalist until I heard Jim speak on Tuesday, and I'm extremely thankful that I was able to hear from such an honest, intelligent, and talented photographer, what the experience is truly like. It's just so difficult to convince yourself that you're prepared to endure roadside attacks, car bombs, kidnapping attempts, and a bullet striking your helmet, especially considering that death is not so far from any of these experiences. Personally speaking, Jim's presentation was enlightening.

Eleana Wehr said...

To say the least, Jim's presentation was extremely insightful and detailed. I remember seeing him at the first PhIJI event this semester where he kind of introduced the event and speakers. I had no idea he had a career like this. His description of his time while in Iraq was very interesting and really opened my eyes to what it is like for journalists who document war and go to violent countries. I got a lot out of Jim's presentation that will definitely help me for a future career in journalism.

Tetiana Bilynsky said...

I really enjoyed Jim coming to class to speak to us. The pictures that Jim showed us were amazing and his presentation was very informative. Seeing Jim's pictures and hearing his stories truly opened my eyes to life and made me appreciate the things I have even more.

Shannon Taylor said...

i agree with most of my classmates, I thoroughly enjoyed Jim MacMillan. I attended the TechTrends that evening and sat diagonally from him. He was much more animated and easy going. I spoke with him afterwards about his presentation earlier in our class and his entire demeanor changed. He is a very honest person and I appreciated his openness. What he did took guts and was very inspiring.

Nicole Patouhas said...

I found Mr. Macmillan's presentation to be extremely powerful. I greatly admire him for his courage and believe that this type of photojournalism is essential to keep the public informed. It is just way too easy for us here at home to go about the routine of our lives, oblivious to what is going on in Iraq. Last Sunday I attended a going away party for a high school friend of mine who is being deployed to Afghanistan. The photos that Mr. MacMillan showed our class gave me chills. Without the enormous talent and courage of journalists like Mr. MacMillan, it would be impossible for many of us to truly grasp the realities of this war. I think what stood out most for me was just what Mr. MacMillan was willing to endure to be able to bring this very vital information home.

Anonymous said...

I really commend him for covering the war. MacMillian is truely a journalist that needs to be honored and cherished. Hearing his story ... I doubt I would be able to do anything like that.

Taisje Claiborne

Janita Styles said...

Having a brother who is stationed in Afghanistan this was a great discussion. It allowed me some inside information and Jim is brave for all that he has covered and the conditions he went through.

I was not aware of journalist being shot at and injured or worse during the wars. Something that isn't talked about often so we turn a blind eye. I appreciate Jim for giving us an inside look.

Alison Curran said...

Sometimes the only perception of war that we get is what the media shows us or what the government wants us to know, having a first hand look at all that goes on is amazing. I greatly enjoyed having Jim MacMillan as a guest speaker. Through his pictures and words you could tell that what we see on the news is not really what the war is all about.

It was also evident to see that talking about this experience is not always easy for him to do. The things he went through must have been so traumatic. Though he may have gone through a lot he was able to capture the true essence of what it is like to me a soldier during the war. The pictures he showed us we would have never been able to see on TV; the government wants to tries to keep those images to themselves and not share with the rest of the world.

Giulia Valtieri said...

I really admire him for admitting that objectivity is hard to find in the news. The optimistic way of thinking would be to say we should always be objective and some journalism are, but many stories in the mass media are usually bias on some level. I also could not take having a constant ringing in my ear as Jim has now and simply for that he is a hero.

Cassandra D'Amelio said...

Nothing short of incredible! I truly admire this man's courage, bravery, and dedication to providing us with the truth. Most people would not be brave enough to go to Iraq let alone follow the military on dangerous missions! He risked his life to show the world the strenght, passion, determination, and skill that America's military has. This has been one of the longest wars in our nation's history, we're still not finished, and sadly yet most people don't have any idea what is going on overseas. It's not their fault, the media mainly chooses to ignore it. He showed the world a glimpse of what life is like for the men who risk everything for our freedoms, he gave them a voice and reminded America of the reason we can have public forums of debate like this and all of the other freedoms we all take for granted. There is a huge price to pay for freedom. Having loved ones who are getting ready to be deployed, his work means a lot to me. If all journalists were half as passionate as Jim is about uncovering the truth, all news would be meaningful, all major issues would surface, the public would be truly educated and our society could start rapidly growing towards change and peace.