This is part one in a multi-part series
EUGENE, Ore. - In the spring of 1982 I made my first trip into a war zone as a freelance photojournalist.
As a journalism student at the University of Texas I wanted to see if it was the kind of work I should pursue. I bought a roundtrip ticket from Houston ($200 on TACA airlines as I recall), tossed my trusty Nikon FM2 into my pack and off I went.
The whole trip cost a few hundred bucks and the only paperwork involved was a single form I signed when I arrived in beautiful downtown San Salvador. I stayed for a week, was scared spitless the entire time - and decided it was the kind of work I liked.
At the time I'm writing this, I am leaving to be an embedded journalist with a Marine Corps infantry battalion in Helmand province, Afghanistan, in a couple of days. I will be working with Cali Bagby, who recently returned for a 10-month embed in Iraq (Note: Morrison and Bagby have since arrived safely in Afghanistan. Watch for their reports to begin this week on KVAL.com).
A few things have changed since I began doing this kind of stuff.
Let’s say, for whatever reason, you want to be an embed in Afghanistan.
The first thing you need to do is to get credentials from a mainstream news organization, which means you’ll have to find an editor somewhere who is willing to sign a few ominous documents provided by the Department of Defense. This will almost certainly cause the legal department of the news organization to hyperventilate and to override the editor.
Not to worry, just explain you are willing to sign a binding and comprehensive waiver of liability, which absolves the news organization of any and all liability no matter what happens.
In fact, it means your loved ones get to foot the bill to have your remains shipped home if things go terribly wrong while you’re in Afghanistan.
What? The legal department is still hyperventilating? They say such waivers aren’t legally binding? Find a different media organization.
But wait, it isn’t good enough just to find an editor who is willing to issue you credentials, you also have to be able to prove to the Department of Defense that you have been published at least five times with that publication.
No sleazebag-sometimes-wannabe freelancers welcome. You've got to be the real deal.
Okay, you managed to persuade an editor to issue you credentials. You’re on your way.
Well sort of.
Well, not really.
You have to be invited to embed with a unit in Afghanistan by the commanding officer of that unit. If you are lucky enough to know such a person, we can move on.
If not, which is more likely, you have to send in a request to DoD asking them if they can locate a commanding officer who will invite you – unknown and sight unseen – to embed with his unit.
Good luck with that.
COMING WEDNESDAY: Let’s say you locate a unit that will have you. Now the fun starts. And by fun, I mean paperwork.
Morrison teaches photojournalism and multimedia reporting at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication in Eugene, Ore.
Bagby is a freelance multimedia journalist who spent 10 months embedded with the Oregon National Guard in Iraq for KVAL.com.