War reporting

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ARD reporting from Afghanistan
Polish camera team in Iraq

The term war reporting describes the journalistic reporting in the mass media about wars and war-like disputes and conflicts. This includes reporting on the political and military events themselves as well as background reports on relevant diplomatic , humanitarian and economic issues. The photojournalistic documentation of crises and armed conflicts is known as war photography .


The beginnings of war reporting

Woodcut about the destruction of Boxberg Castle in 1523 by Hans Wandereisen , he accompanied the Swabian Federation on its punitive expedition against supporters of the robber baron Hans Thomas von Absberg . Since many people of his time could not read or write, his report was in the form of pictures.

Even before the invention of writing and for a long time afterwards, returning soldiers served primarily as reporters.

Alexander the Great recognized the importance of war reports early on. On his campaigns there were scribes who documented and passed on his war successes and thus cemented his reputation as a victorious general early on. But not only were reports about victory and defeat, the war reports also served to disinformation for the enemy and to manipulate public opinion.

After the invention of printing by Johannes Gutenberg around 1450, war reports were made available to a large audience for the first time. In the first print to mention the term newspaper - 1502 Newe Zeytung von orient und auff gange - the conquest of the island of Lesbos by the Venetians and the French two years ago was the subject of the discussion (Wilke 2005, pp. 84–85). The war became a favorite subject in the new print media. Above all, the wars against the Ottoman Empire were reported. 73% of the newspapers from 1515 to 1662 treated war and politics as a priority.

Napoléon Bonaparte was one of the first to recognize the importance of the new print media in times of war. The sentence goes back to him: "Three enemy newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets". He introduced army newspapers that reported on his campaigns. He directed the free press in the desired direction through bribery and bans. However, Bonaparte's embellished reports did not serve their purpose in the long run. Politics and the media were becoming increasingly untrustworthy among the population.

Before the technique of photography was invented, images of wars could only be seen in the form of hand-made sketches, drawings or paintings. But mostly these pictures , also made by officially commissioned war painters, only showed an embellished or heroic picture of the war, in which the (victorious) war leaders were the focus.

In clear contrast to this was the work on the subject of war by the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya . In 82 etchings for his cycle “ Los Desastros de la Guerra ” from 1810 to 1820, Goya vividly depicted the Napoleonic campaign in Spain with its atrocities, conveying the atrocities of war from a new perspective.

The first press war

With the introduction of new communication technologies, war reporting increased in importance. Up to now, reports have mostly been from the military, but the rapid spread of daily newspapers in the first half of the 19th century brought the first civil war reporters to work. The publishers recognized the increasing circulation effect of war reports.

The Crimean War of Russia against England, France and the Ottoman Empire from 1853 to 1856 ushered in the first so-called press war in history. Numerous British and French reporters covered the fighting. Crisis communication was organized by newspaper publishers themselves for the first time. The military and the media were confronted with a completely new situation here. In the early stages of the Crimean War there was no institutionalized censorship or press control. The military had to learn how to handle the media, the presence of journalists on the battlefield was new and unfamiliar.

William Howard Russell , who reports for the London Times , is considered the first known war correspondent. What Russell saw and wrote in the Crimea did not please the military leaders. The soldiers are undersupplied, typhus and cholera prevail . Russell also reported that the officers were acting like they were on a picnic tour. There were sharp protests from the military. Russell was later accused of espionage for his frank and neutral reporting . The warring parties were increasingly unable to report freely, so that at the end of the war they censored the reports.

Another renowned war correspondent was Ferdinando Petruccelli della Gattina , known for his reports from the Italian Wars of Independence and the Franco-German War . Jules Claretie from Le Figaro praised his coverage of the Battle of Custozza .

Although data transmission by telegraph was already possible at the time of the Crimean War , it was rarely used due to the lack of infrastructure. The war reports were mostly sent by normal mail. At this point, the medium of photography also found its way into reporting. The Englishman Roger Fenton accompanied the British troops on the Crimean peninsula in his laboratory car. However, his pictures did not show an authentic picture of the war. They did not contain any battle scenes or deaths, only pictures of soldiers. Fenton's work was a British government-funded project "[...] using the new, 'objective' medium to produce a picture of war cleared of its horrors" and involuntarily supported Russell's observations of a "picnic war".

Despite the restrictions imposed by the British government, some privately employed journalists succeeded in retrospectively filming battle footage that gave an idea of ​​the true extent of the war. But war victims cannot be seen in these pictures either. It was not until the American Civil War that the photographer Mathew Brady also depicted dead soldiers.

In the so-called Paris Communard Uprising of 1871 , pictures of the dead were first used as a propagandistic weapon to denigrate or deter the rebels. But such images were the exception in the contemporary war photography of the time . The majority of the photos showed groups of soldiers in a rather relaxed atmosphere and did not convey the true extent of death, suffering and destruction.

War correspondent Phillip Knightley describes the period between the beginnings of war reporting in the Crimean War and the First World War as the "Golden Age" of crisis communication. On the one hand, the press industry expanded in many countries due to an increase in the demand for newspapers. There were also countless wars and conflicts, such as the many colonial wars ( Boer War 1899–1902, Boxer Rebellion 1900), which were accompanied by numerous reporters. Thus this new form of journalism became firmly established in society. But at this peak of war reporting, the reporters portrayed the war less as a cruel war with suffering and death, but rather as an adventure game for men:

“To readers in London or New York, distant battles in strange places must have seemed unreal, and the Golden Age style of war reporting - where guns flash, cannons thunder, the struggle rages, the general is brave, the soldiers are gallant, and their bayonets make short work of the enemy - only added to the illusion that it was all a thrilling adventure story. "

“To readers in London or New York, distant battles in strange places must have seemed unreal, and the golden age of war reporting - with guns flashing, cannons thundering, the battle rages, the general is brave, the soldiers fight nobly and their bayonets short shrift doing with the enemy - only added to the illusion that this was all an exciting adventure story. "

- Phillip Knightley

Propaganda in World War I

First World War: War correspondent in the trenches (1917)

During the First World War, war reporting was also possible with film recordings for the first time. In addition to newsreels, such as the war journal of Wiener Kunstfilm in Austria-Hungary or the Sascha war weekly report by Sascha-Film for the cinemas, which showed images of events at the front, the young film medium was also excessively misused as a propaganda tool in the form of numerous propaganda films. One of the film's first war correspondents was Eduard Hoesch , who was even appointed a “personal operator” by the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Karl and who then accompanied him on his visits to the theaters of war.

The second World War

Under National Socialism , war reporters were called "war reporters". About Wehrmacht propaganda companies :

After 1945

The American reporters were not subject to any censorship during the Vietnam War , but the explicit depictions of violence were shifted to late night broadcasting. The reporting, however, ultimately led to considerable public pressure on the American government; Even today there is an opinion that the war was lost on the “home front”. This experience led the US government to set strict rules for reporting in the event of war as early as the 1980s. During the US invasion of Grenada , the presence of journalists was generally prohibited.

The so-called pool system , which was first used in the Gulf War , was developed for all western journalists. At the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003, the USA expanded this pool system and allowed a limited number of journalists to accompany the Allied armed forces as so-called embedded journalists directly in action, more or less as a non-armed part of the troops.

Nowadays, many media outlets use information published by the warring parties themselves, for example when it comes to videos of attacks or attacks. An objective verification of this information is often very difficult. Due to cost-cutting measures, but also because some conflicting parties want to kill or intimidate journalists in a targeted manner, media companies are often unwilling to send their reporters to crisis areas.

Key data on war photography, war picture reports

In 2018, Susanne Mayer names some key data on war photography, namely its technical conditions and active people.

  • 1837: There were seven years between the discovery of the photographic process in 1837 by Louis Daguerre (1787–1851) with his glass plate prepared with silver iodide and its use in the first war photographs.
  • 1846: During the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), the Englishman Roger Fenton (1819–1869) produced 700 glass negatives from the battlefield.
  • 1853: Several thousand photographs of the Crimean War (1853–1856) were in circulation.
  • 1861: There are more than a million photographs from the American Civil War (1861–1865). Matthias Miller from the German Historical Museum calls the American Civil War the cradle of war photography, because for the first time photographers were accredited with the troops. 22 men in the service of the northern states were active as photographers (war reporters).
  • 1862: The technical breakthrough came when photographer Timothy H. O'Sullivan used collodion wet plates (technique from 1851) in his reports. The technology was comparatively inexpensive and provided detailed images. His photo The Harvest of Death (1863), which shows bloated corpses on the battlefield of Gettysburg , permanently fixes the pseudo heroic death in the fratricidal war in multiple reproductions.
  • Gerda Taros (1910–1937) pictures are initially ascribed to him after Robert Capa's death, until a suitcase with documents allows a correct assignment.
  • 1943: Natalja Bode's most glorious photo in terms of propaganda shows two fighters laughing and pointing at fist-sized bullet holes on the turret of a German tank: Tiger , July 1943. The German tank Tiger was until then considered the best tank in the world. It also documents the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943 from the Soviet side . What cannot be found in Boden's photos, says Margot Blank, are photos that were so common on the German side - photos that degrade the enemy to “ sub-human ”.
  • 1944/45: Lee Miller (1907–1977), who discovered / used the photographic process of solarization in photography together with Man Ray (the basics are described for the first time in 1857), advances as a reporter with the American army to Berlin. (Photographs: London Blitz , Allied invasion , liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp and Dachau concentration camp )
  • 2006: The art historian Charlotte Klonk describes how the effect of a corpse photo can change in her study Terror - When Images Become Weapons (2017). When the Americans showed the bloody head of Al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, killed north of Baghdad , the classic "booty" image, which, like those publicly hanged in the Middle Ages and the executions in modern times, was intended to act as a deterrent , like a martyr picture mobilizing for Islamism.


Images of war are "always dependent on their [...] specific historical, political-cultural context of interpretation and action as well as the people who produce and receive them". "At different times they can therefore be perceived very differently and lead to completely different reactions."

The military and propaganda benefits of information were recognized early on. With the invention of the printing press, more or less exaggerated reports about the Turkish threat in Europe triggered deep-seated fears and shaped a long-lasting enemy image . In the middle of the 19th century , reports of wars were professionalized by newspaper publishers. War reporting developed into an independent form of journalism . At the same time, photography was invented and linguistic reporting was supplemented by visual representation. From then on, the images of war determined the idea of ​​war. Images from war films were added to the images of real war events. Images of war have a strong memory.

"War is the continuation of politics by other means" said Carl von Clausewitz in 1832 in his text fragment Vom Kriege . And in order to win a war, you must first have the population on your side:

“It is just as important to mobilize public support as it is to prepare the armed forces for war. Morality is at the center of war, not physical strength. Victory is not achieved by annihilation, but by breaking opposing morals. The aim of war is the morale of the enemy. "

- Carl von Clausewitz

This is also the aim of war reporting and portrays the war in such a way that the morale of the own population is not endangered, but in return the opposing morale is undermined. Governments have recognized that public opinion about a war depends on its representation in the mass media. That it is manipulated, see u. a. the articles propaganda , media manipulation .

In the media society , the relationship between war reporting and security policy has also changed. As described by communication scientist Martin Löffelholz , the security policy communication management of governments influences journalism. At the same time, however, war reporting can shape security policy decisions.


The lives of war correspondents are naturally more at risk than those of correspondents outside of war zones. It is an unwritten journalistic law that reporters do not carry weapons or uniforms. Some journalists even reject the use of bulletproof vests . Nevertheless, even being clearly identified as a journalist is no reliable protection against being targeted - intentionally or unintentionally. The working conditions are sometimes very difficult, especially for TV teams. The state media infrastructure can only be used sometimes. In the Gulf War and also in the Iraq War, the USA instructed the Western press in certain hotels or camps - for their protection and control.

Although the embedded journalists were unarmed, they were uniformed and therefore indistinguishable from the Allied soldiers for third parties. Inclusion in the troop makes objective reporting more difficult than it promotes - regardless of the censorship.

The practice of censorship by the Allies and the way they dealt with reporters was publicly discussed in Europe after the Gulf War and also heavily criticized. It became known that the military (as well as the Iraqi side) had spread false information in a targeted manner. The journalists were accused of reporting too uncritically and of having contributed to staging war as a “media spectacle”. The Gulf War was the first war in the world to have its first bombings televised live, in prime-time in the US. The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) reporter Gary Shephard is said to have said:

“It's the biggest fireworks display I've ever seen. It's like New Year's Eve, it's fantastic. "

- Spiegel special: Die Journalisten , 1995, p. 36, Stefan Storz: Beautiful new war

A number of journalists were critical of their own role. In a declaration by the 2003 Grimme Prize winners, it said:

“We must not allow ourselves to be instrumentalized as weapons declarers and amateur strategists. [...] The true images of war are jets not taking off, green phosphorescent night vision, military maps or the last video images of remote-controlled weapons before their destructive impact. [...] Let's not cover up the truth with empty words. Behind the 'collateral damage' lie dead civilians, a 'military strike' is a devastating bomb attack and 'surgical operations' shred and maim people. There are no 'intelligent' weapons. "

- epd development policy 7/2003, p. 36


Significant or well-known personalities of the genre can be found in the Wikipedia category " War Reporters ".

See also


  • Mira Beham: war drums. Media, war and politics (= dtv 30531). 3. Edition. Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-423-30531-2 .
  • Bernd Boll : The Wehrmacht Propaganda Companies 1938 to 1945 . In Christian Stadelmann, Regina Wonisch: Brutal curiosity: Walter Henisch. War photographer and picture reporter . Christian Brandstätter, Vienna 2003 ISBN 978-3-85498-294-4 .
  • Ute Daniel (Ed.): Eyewitnesses. War reporting from the 18th to the 21st century. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2006, ISBN 3-525-36737-6 .
  • Thomas Dominikowski: Mass Media and Mass War. Historical approaches to an unpeaceful symbiosis. In: Martin Löffelholz (ed.): Basics and perspectives of crisis communication (= war as a media event. Vol. 1). Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1993, ISBN 3-531-12332-7 , pp. 33-48.
  • Claus Eurich: Deadly Signals. The warlike history of information technology from antiquity to the year 2000 (= Luchterhand Collection. Vol. 968). Luchterhand-Literaturverlag, Frankfurt am Main 1991, ISBN 3-630-61968-1 .
  • Alexander Foggensteiner: Reporter at War. What you think, what you feel, how you work. Picus-Verlag, Vienna 1993, ISBN 3-85452-241-X (interviews with war correspondents).
  • Romy Fröhlich : "Women, the media and war: The representation of women in German broadsheets between 1980 and 2000." in J. Seethaler, M. Karmasin, G. Melischek & R. Wöhlert (Eds.), Selling was. The role of the mass media in hostile conflicts form World War I to the 'War on Terror' (pp. 157-180). Bristol, UK and Chicago, IL: Intellect and The University of Chicago Press, 2013.
  • Romy Fröhlich : "The coverage of war, security, and defense policy: Do women matter? A longitudinal content analysis of broadsheets in Germany." European Journal of Communication, 25 (1), 1-10, 2010. doi : 10.1177 / 0267323109354226
  • Romy Fröhlich , H. Scherer & B. Scheffele: "War reporting in German quality newspapers. A content-analytical long-term study on framing processes." Journalism, 52 (1), 1–32, 2007.
  • Bettina Gaus : Front reports. The power of the media in times of war. Campus, Frankfurt am Main et al. 2004, ISBN 3-593-37543-5 .
  • Stefan Hartwig: Conflict and Communication. Reporting, media work and propaganda in international conflicts from the Crimean War to Kosovo (= journalism. Vol. 4). Lit, Münster et al. 2003, ISBN 3-8258-4513-3 .
  • Kurt Imhof , Peter Schulz (ed.): Media and War - War in the Media (= series “Mediensymposium Luzern” 1). Seismo, Zurich 1995, ISBN 3-908239-45-1 .
  • Margret Jäger , Siegfried Jäger (Ed.): Media in War. The share of the print media in the generation of feelings of powerlessness and conflict. Duisburg Institute for Language and Social Research, Duisburg 2002, ISBN 3-927388-79-3 .
  • Ulrich Keller: The Image of War: The Crimean War (1853-1856) , DNB 1043623205 , in: European History Online , ed. from the Institute for European History (Mainz) , Mainz 2013.
  • Philip Knightley: The First Casualty. The war correspondent as hero and myth-maker from the Crimea to Iraq. 3rd edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore MD et al. 2004, ISBN 0-8018-8030-0 .
  • Barbara Korte, Horst Tonn (ed.): War correspondents. Interpretation instances in the media society. VS, Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN 978-3-531-15091-8 .
  • Stefan Krempl : War and the Internet. Way out of the propaganda? Heise, Hannover 2004, ISBN 3-936931-09-7 .
  • Martin Löffelholz : War reporting in the media society . In: From Politics and Contemporary History, Issue 16–17 / 2007 (April 5, 2007). Online version at: http://m.bpb.de/apuz/30527/kriegsberichticherung-in-der-mediengesellschaft?p=all , accessed on February 21, 2012.
  • Martinöffelholz (ed.): War as a media event. 2 volumes. 1993-2004;
    • Volume 1: Basics and perspectives of crisis communication. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1993, ISBN 3-531-12332-7 ;
    • Volume 2: Crisis Communication in the 21st Century. VS, Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2004, ISBN 3-531-13997-5 .
  • Connelly Mark, David Welch (Eds.): War and the Media. Reportage and Propaganda, 1900–2003 (= International Library of War Studies. Vol. 3). Tauris, London et al. 2005, ISBN 1-86064-959-9 .
  • Gerhard Paul : Images of War - War of Images. The visualization of modern war. Schöningh et al., Paderborn et al. 2004, ISBN 3-506-71739-1 .
  • Cathrin Pichler (Ed.): Topic: Why War? Texts and minutes of the correspondence between Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud . Schlebrügge, Vienna 2006, ISBN 3-85160-094-0 (articles by war reporters Anna Politkowskaja, Giuliana Sgrena, Slavenka Drakulic, which portray experiences as reporters in crisis regions).
  • Heinz-Peter Preußer (Ed.): War in the media (= Amsterdam contributions to recent German studies. Vol. 57). Rodopi, Amsterdam et al. 2005, ISBN 90-420-1855-0 .
  • Simone Richter: Journalists between the fronts. War reporting using the example of Yugoslavia. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen et al. 1999, ISBN 3-531-13423-X .
  • Peter Schäfer: Growth in War. Al Jazeera: Propaganda machine or pioneer of Arab media freedom. In: Goedart Palm, Florian Rötzer (Hrsg.): MedienTerrorKrieg. To the new war paradigm of the 21st century. Heise, Hannover 2002, ISBN 3-88229-199-0 .
  • Paul Virilio : War and Television. Hanser, Munich et al. 1993, ISBN 3-446-17252-1 .
  • Florian Keisinger: Prisoners of war - conditions for reporting on the Balkan war. In: Florian Keisinger: Uncivilized Wars in Civilized Europe? The Balkan Wars and Public Opinion in Germany, England and Ireland. 1876–1913 (= War in History. Vol. 47). Schöningh, Paderborn et al. 2008, ISBN 978-3-506-76689-2 , p. 38 ff.
  • Rosie Garthwaite : Handbook to Most Dangerous Places on Earth. Bloomsbury Berlin, Berlin et al. 2011, ISBN 978-3-8270-1036-0 .

Web links

Commons : War journalism  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: War correspondent  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Dominikowski: mass media and mass war. 1993, p. 36.
  2. In her dissertation, Die Neue Zeitung. Empirical investigation of an information medium of the early modern times with special consideration of depictions of violence , Mainz 1994, Kristina Pfarr examined the selection of topics from 1254 Newen Zeytungen from the years 1515 to 1662. (Wilke 2005, p. 85).
  3. Mcluhan 1995, p. 31.
  4. Paul: Images of War. 2004, p. 62.
  5. Cf. Dominikowski: Mass Media and Mass War. 1993, p. 37.
  6. ^ Jules Claretie, La vie à Paris , Bibliothèque Charpentier, 1896, p. 367.
  7. Freund 1976, 117 f., Quoted from Dominikowski: Massenmedien und Massenkrieg. 1993, p. 37.
  8. Knightley: The First Casualty. 3rd edition. 2004, p. 43.
  9. Knightley: The First Casualty. 3rd edition. 2004, p. 66.
  10. Susanne Mayer: Natalja Bode: The photographer of Stalingrad. In: Die Zeit No. 06/2018 from Feb. 1, 2018, p. 19.
  11. Dr. Matthias Miller, photo collection of the DHM, head. On the DHM page
  12. Susanne Mayer, dto, Feb. 1, 2018, p. 19.
  13. Paul 2004, p. 11 f.
  14. Kunzcik 1995, p. 91 f.
  15. ^ Spoon wood 2007.
  16. See review on H-Soz-u-Kult.