Kevin Sites’ odyssey in online video journalism and revealing the atrocities of war

Kevin Sites in Nepal, South East Asia

Image sourced from unitedweblog.files.wordpress.com

Kevin Sites helped innovate online video journalism. He is known as the ‘grandaddy’ of backpack journalists. He was one of the first to pave the way for independent, intrepid reporters carrying portable technology on their backs to single-handedly shoot, write, edit and transmit multimedia reports from some of the world’s most dangerous places.

Sites began his career as a reporter/producer for various American news outlets including ABC, NBC and CNN. Sites’ work provoked controversy in 2004 when he filmed a US marine shooting a wounded Iraqi insurgent in the head in a Falluja mosque. Whilst some were critical of Sites’ decision to film the shooting, he was praised by journalists for exposing the true realities of war through online video journalism.

Below is YouTube footage of Sites’ video on the Faluja mosque shooting. Warning – graphic content, viewer discretion advised.

In 2005, Sites left the TV networks and switched to online journalism. He was hired by Yahoo! as its first Yahoo! News correspondent and embarked on a year-long journey, travelling to all the major war zones around the world, reporting for his website ‘Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone’. According to his website his mission was “to cover every armed conflict in the world within one year, and in doing so to provide a clear idea of the combatants, victims, causes, and costs of each of these struggles – and their global impact.” This mission was all the more impressive given Sites worked alone. Although this was only six years ago, Sites’ expedition epitomises the trend away from well-resourced camera and production crews, and instead towards multi-skilled one-man-bands in the world of news and current affairs. His project was unique in the way it presented stories through mixed media including photographs, videos and written reports.

Sites’ ‘Hot Zone’ project saw him visit nearly every region of the world including the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia, Central Asia, South America and Eastern Europe. His reports helped galvanise the notion of the modern media correspondent without a crew to support them. The real essence of Sites’ work was his focus on the reality of war zones and the stories undiscovered by mainstream media. During his trip, he spent time with Maoist rebels in Nepal during its long-running civil war – which finally resulted in a revolution and the installation of a democratically elected government, and a new constitution in 2006.

Sites photographing a Maoist guerrilla in Kailali, Western Nepal. The anti-government protestors – largely made up of the People’s Liberation Army – had many women enlisted, and were thought of by their male colleagues as some of the fiercest fighters.

Image sourced from asiamedia.ucla.edu

Below is a YouTube clip of Sites’ video made in Nepal and Kashmir. Warning – graphic content, viewer discretion advised.

Whilst his videos can be gruesome and saddening, he is widely recognised as a brave journalist willing to reveal the true atrocities of war. Sites’ contribution to online video journalism and to the exposure of the realities of war was recognised widely within the profession. In 2005 he won the Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism and was nominated for an Emmy. In 2006 the LA Press Club awarded him with the esteemed Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism, and in 2007 Forbes Magazine listed him as one of the ‘Web Celeb 25’, calling him one of  “the biggest, brightest and most influential people on the web.” The same year, he won the Webby Award for coverage of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict.

Sites grew up in Ohio and currently lives in California. He continues to work as a solo-journalist or ‘SoJo’.

Natasha Malcolm-Brown

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