Reporting on ISIS and Extremism From a Safe Distance

By Sandy K. Johnson

For centuries, journalists have risked their lives to report from war zones in order to inform the public. Syria and ISIS have proven challenging to that basic tenet of journalism.

In 2015, 20 journalists were killed in Syria and Iraq; many of them were murdered. Fearing more bloodshed, most news organizations pulled their journalists from the region.

Even so, reporting on the conflict is a central duty of journalists –  whether or not they are on the ground.

Three U.S.-based journalists with extensive international experience shared their tips and resources with the National Press Foundation: Nancy Youssef, a national security reporter for The Daily Beast; and Voice of America Extremism Watch desk journalists Ernest (E.A.) Torriero and Sirwan Kajjo.

The new VOA Extremism Watch desk culls information from many sources – and Arab media, government-run media, op-eds, local radio – and layers it with reporting by its 44 foreign language services in the region, as well as reporting by nine reporters in Washington. They keep a close eye on Twitter and Facebook and they Skype with people on the ground. The result is content rich with context and detail. Torriero likened it to putting together the pieces of a puzzle. You can find their work at

Youssef uses her extensive network to fact-check statements by the U.S. government, and has used Google Earth images and encrypted texting in her efforts to tell a deeper story. She said journalists shouldn’t over-rely on images; instead, they should dig for what the image-makers are trying to communicate or convey. Youssef’s work can be found here.

Some resources suggested by the three journalists:

  • ARA News, an independent news agency covering Rojava, Kurdistan Region; Syria; Iraq, and Turkey:
  • Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, written by activists in the Syrian city:
  • Rudaw, a Kurdish media network:
  • Kurdistan 24, a media network in Kurdistan:
  • Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that disseminates information about human rights abuses:
  • Airwars, a nonprofit that tracks the toll of air strikes in Syria and Iraq:
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