The 20th century was defined by violent conflict: war, genocide, and military occupation. World War I left approximately 10 million dead and World War II had a death toll estimated at 55 million. It has been conservatively calculated that the total number of dead killed in wars during the century was 108 million, as the casualties shifted from armed combatants to victims of mass extermination in civil wars and wars of colonization. Civilian collateral damage and the targeting of civilians by ethnicity and religion became tragically common.
Journalists have witnessed and chronicled the seismic military, social, cultural, and political transformations, as well as providing a vital democratic function. Paralleling this age of devastation was the ascendant power of legacy media and its golden age in the West. The combination of technological advancement, the professionalization of the industry, greater literacy and expanded newspaper readerships, and mass culture brought the press to the frontline in unprecedented numbers and in a new and intimate relationship. Journalists functioned and continue to operate as witnesses, communicators, recorders, and interpreters, on both the battlefield and the home front, as well as negotiating the competing demands of their media organizations, the public, political, and military elites, and their professional lives.
This century had barely dawned when armies and a largely jingoistic press were marshalled in Afghanistan and Iraq after the attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001. The nature of warfare had evolved—from limited wars with clearly identified armies on demarcated fronts to non-conventional wars and wars of insurgency—and, with it, changes in the relations between the state, military, and media. The conflicts in this millennium provoked both long-standing and new debates surrounding the role of the press and how it actively mediates conflict, censorship, and patriotism in a hostile media environment.
Journalism also experienced profound change technologically and industrially. With the fragmentation of the media business model and editorial gatekeeping, and liberated by new media, the legacy media’s relationship with conflict has changed. New voices have gained prominence. Non-Western journalists have been accorded greater recognition when reporting invasion and conflict from a local perspective. Civilians also became both an important conduit and problematic source of news, there has been an upsurge of government and military propaganda, and terrorists have become chilling media producers. For other state media organizations in the East, their global footprint has expanded rather than diminished. Nevertheless, the debates about the image and role of journalism during armed conflict; censorship; media power, technology, and mediatization; and the physical and psychological dangers experienced by journalists when witnessing and reporting conflict, prevail.