At the end of last summer, Ron Kampeas, the seasoned Jewish Telegraphic Agency reporter, shared his experience reporting on the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh. Triggered by a jarring CNN alert back in that dark October of 2018, he and a companion rushed to the scene, where a tip from an informant brought both of them to tears.
“You’re a journalist, professionally bound to maintain distance,” Ron reminded himself then and over the next five years covering the shooting and its ramifications. “Not everything is personal.”
Kampeas’ article, written during the sentencing phase for the gunman who killed 11 Jewish worshippers, provides a poignant window into the emotional toll journalists face when confronting the depths of human brutality. In times of war, these strains can intensify, potentially influencing a journalist’s ability to report effectively.
Having spent nearly two decades as a spokesperson for Jewish community organizations, I’ve often wondered why the Jewish community does not prioritize investment in news organizations, despite the pivotal role they play in keeping communities informed and engaged. The question takes on even greater importance today, with attacks on the Jewish homeland and a disturbing rise in violent incidents of antisemitism. We need highly skilled, credible journalists to report on these events for the rest of the world.
Journalists also play a critical role in countering misinformation and disinformation. According to NBC News, sites like Facebook, X, TikTok and YouTube all are coping with a flood of unsubstantiated rumors and falsehoods about the Israel-Hamas War, which make it impossible for people to distinguish fact from fiction. To address these concerns, increased attention on media organizations and financial support would go a long way.
Amidst a volatile backdrop, journalists are converging on Israel. Despite flight disruptions and border closures, the anchors of the nation’s three largest evening newscasts, including NBC’s Lester Holt, ABC’s David Muir and CBS’s Norah O’Donnell, have entered the country. CNN has deployed a team of approximately 35 professionals on the ground. As of last week, there were about 250 foreign journalists in the country and counting. This cohort of journalists will be the world’s primary source of information during the Israel-Hamas War — regardless of their familiarity with the region.
I recently spoke with Uri Dromi and Talia Dekel from the Jerusalem Press Club and Eli Gershenkoin from the Union for Journalists in Israel. These organizations provide support to foreign and local journalists in Israel whose needs will only grow as the war grinds on. Mental health services and physical protection equipment top the list for local journalists who have already been deeply affected by the conflict.
For those who come in from all areas of the world, translators, “fixers” and sources who can provide access to officials are critical. Few speak Hebrew, which limits the scope of their reporting and hampers their ability to maneuver daily life in Israel.
A 2023 reporters’ roundtable organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy discussed the challenges facing journalists reporting “under fire.” While some news organizations have the means to employ security advisors who travel with journalists, most can’t afford them, so journalists often head off into conflict areas with limited training or support.
In these demanding environments, maintaining objectivity is complicated by the intense and often traumatic experiences journalists encounter. An array of challenges affect their physical, mental and digital well-being. The intensity of what journalists witness and experience can blur the lines between observer and participant, making fairness a constant battle.
Under these circumstances, Washington reporter Missy Ryan explains in the roundtable, a journalist “should focus on one person’s experience and provide context for the larger conflict” using their judgment and analytical skills that can take a lot of experience to develop.
I am heartened to share that the Knight Foundation, a leader in supporting press freedom and the field of journalism, is providing a grant to the Jerusalem Press Club and Union for Journalists in Israel to help address these challenges. While Knight’s work is almost entirely centered around local news in the United States, we make an exception for work that enhances journalist safety. Legal, digital and physical safety threats to journalists abroad can be harbingers for similar press freedom concerns closer to home.
Knight supports the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Center for Journalists, and provided grants to those organizations to help Ukrainian journalists, Russian journalists in exile and journalists in neighboring countries get vital information to communities affected by Russia’s war on Ukraine. Knight also supported efforts to keep safe Afghani journalists during the Taliban’s return to power.
As the Israel-Hamas war unfolds, it will continue to be incumbent upon the Jewish community to take heed of the needs of journalists and the organizations that support them. It is crucial that we support the work of these organizations not only during this crisis, but also during times of peace to ensure that journalists have the tools and services they need to cover events accurately.
It’s my hope that the Jewish community — and more broadly the general community — will recognize the need for the full, accurate, contextual truth that is only possible when we have prepared and seasoned journalists on the ground reporting.
Rebecca Dinar is director of communications at Knight Foundation. Previously, she served as spokesperson for AIPAC from 2001 to 2006 and associate vice president, Strategic Marketing and Communications for the Jewish Federations of North America from 2014 to 2021.