Interview: Raul Gallego Abellan on reporting wars and how technology is changing the role of a journalist

Raul Gallego Abellan is a video journalist from Spain currently employed by Associated Press. His work has led him around the world, between war zones, natural disaster sites and international award ceremonies.

LHG: Your website states that your first role in the industry was as a freelance in 1998. In what ways have you found that the expectations of independent video journalists have changed since then?

RGA: Technology is going through a big change in our profession. Equipment is more cheap so more people have access to cameras and can potentially become journalists, producers, filmmakers etc. But because there is a bigger market and bigger group of people ready to shoot, media companies are using this fact to devalue the conditions of our work. There are so many people willing to work as journalists that media companies are taking advantage and saying: look if you don’t take this offer I have hundreds of people knocking on my door willing to work for even cheaper.

But though there are more people with a laptop and a camera it doesn’t mean that quality is improving. Actually it’s getting worse. General quality in shooting, editing and even reporting is getting lower. There are stories that I see now on TV or online that, when I was starting out, would no way have been broadcast.

I love to work with just a little camera, a laptop and a satellite phone. That makes it so much easier for me to travel around. But working with a little camera is more difficult; there is less stability and you have to make a bigger effort to shoot properly, make sequences etc. than if you work with a big camera.

However there are now people doing great work with very cheap equipment. More people are able to produce something and show their talent and new ways of storytelling. Before, production was very expensive. Now, with less money but good quality and hard work you can do what before you had to spend big quantity of money and send a big crew on.

But I do feel that what is wrong is that the conditions of our work, salary, level and quality, etc., are decreasing in recent years.

Now, a freelancer has to be someone ready to do everything. Shoot, edit, report, write, take photos, tweet! I like to be a multi skilled person but now it’s getting too much. It’s evident that if you try to take photos, shoot video, edit, report, tweet, all at the same time, the quality will be not so good. Especially in daily news or breaking news, for example a text writer cannot take good photos if s/he doesn’t have experience and is using a little snapshot camera. What you do when something is happening in front of you? Take photos? Shoot video? Also, I think that if you shoot video with cameras like HD SLR and then you do a frame grab you are killing photography.

LHG: You’ve been covering the unrest in Libya for Associated Press and have entered many conflict zones for your work in the past. How do you prepare yourself for entering a hostile territory?

RGA: I don’t have a set way to prepare myself. I always try to think positive but at the same time be aware of things that could happen; all the options, all the possibilities that I might face. I believe that motivation is also very important. People have to know why they are going to cover conflict. For me it works if you have the intention to show the reality of the conflict, the suffering, and if you see journalism as a tool that means things will at least be registered. We as journalists can not create much change in the world but at least we can try to or try to expose something that is wrong. If somebody that has a rich life in the EU or the US sees one of my stories and decides to give a donation to an NGO or just becomes more aware of how lucky s/he is to live where s/he lives it’s kind of worth it. Sometimes a camera in a conflict can give a little hope to the person that is suffering just to let them talk in front of the camera. Sometimes a strong image can mobilise a society in big or small groups or individually.

Every war reporter has different reasons for covering wars. And it’s worth noting that covering war doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be constantly on the front line. People are bored of the bang bang images. They are so bombarded with them that they don’t care anymore or are not touched by one or two minutes of fighting, explosions or images of people injured or dying in the hospital. An example of this is that some people remember more of an interview with a Libyan rebel fighter I filmed in the few days before he started fighting, when he was living in Denver Colorado selling donuts, than any of my fighting images where I was risking my life for it.

But the last uprisings in Tunis, Egypt, Libya etc. shows how important the media still is and how important journalists are in mobilising people despite, at the same time, mass media becoming a little like a circus with correspondents just explaining how difficult and dangerous it is for them to work there than actually what is going on on the ground.

LHG: What would you say is the most memorable project you’ve worked on to date?

RGA: I have lots of stories in mind. I cannot say one was more important or more memorable than the others. Covering a historic moment is incredible. When you are recording with the camera and you are thinking, this is history and I am experiencing it in a front row seat. Also, when your story helps someone, that is the best feeling as a cameraman or journalist as it’s when you feel that your work is really worth it.

Last year the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) recognised online news for the first time, and awarded Raul the Edward R Murrow News Series prize for his three part video essay A Marine’s Diary, about the lives of US marines in Afghanistan.

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Laura Heighton-Ginns

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