In the worldwide movement away from democracy, perhaps the most vulnerable institution is the free press, and the most disposable people are journalists. If they’re doing their job right, they can have few friends in powerful places. Journalists become reliably useful to governments, corporations, or armed groups only when they betray their calling. They seldom even have a base of support within the general public. In some places, it’s impossible to report the truth without making oneself an object of hatred and a target of violence for one sector of society or another.
In recent years, reporting the news has become an ever more dangerous activity. Between 2002 and 2012, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (C.P.J.), five hundred and six journalists were killed worldwide, as opposed to three hundred and ninety in the previous decade. Even in the most violent war zones, such as Iraq and Syria, the cause of death is most often simple murder, rather than being killed while covering combat. One major shift in the years since September 11, 2001, has been the erosion of a commonly accepted idea of press neutrality. Journalists are now seen by many combatants, especially jihadis, as legitimate targets and valuable propaganda tools, alive or dead. The best-known cases involve Western reporters, from Daniel Pearl to James Foley, but the most endangered journalists are ones you’ve probably never heard of—the newspaper reporter in Tijuana, the cameraman in Karachi, the blogger in Tehran.