James Foley Among Many Young, Close-Knit Freelance War Reporters

PHOTO: A photo taken on September 29, 2011 shows US freelance reporter James Foley (L) on the highway between the airport and the West Gate of Sirte, Libya.

James Foley became the face of freelance journalists covering conflicts abroad when he was taken hostage and killed, earlier this week, by the terror group ISIS.

But there are dozens of young reporters covering the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Gaza and elsewhere in the world who take similar risks: a band of brothers and sisters who rely on one another for help traveling to, reporting on and surviving in dangerous war zones.

Their work appears in major U.S. publications, for readers who often have no idea that the contributors are freelancers, working on their own from the world's most dangerous places.

"The Arab Spring, freelancers got quite close covering the uprising in Egypt and Libya, where most of us were cutting our teeth," reporter Sarah Topol told ABC News today. "Young journalists came into Cairo, shared hotel rooms, information, and kind of a general optimism that we were on the cusp of witnessing and recording seismic change."

Topol, 29, is from New York City originally. When asked why she and other young reporters go into such a dangerous line of work, with no guarantee of a salary or benefits or, in fact, surviving, she said it’s "because we care."

PHOTO: Fawzi Atiya al Samoonis house was destroyed during the Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, 2009.
Kate Brooks
PHOTO: Fawzi Atiya al Samooni's house was destroyed during the Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, 2009.

"It's obviously not for the money or the stability or even the recognition," she said. "I could be cynical and say part of it is inherently selfish, there aren't a ton of people who will run towards danger. But I think if we didn't believe in some way that our work would actually make some kind of difference, most of us wouldn't do it. It's something I know my friends I think a lot about."

Kate Brooks, 36, has been photographing conflicts for more than 15 years, and has photographed Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Her work has appeared in major U.S. publications such as TIME, The New Yorker, Newsweek, The New York Times. Recently, she has been covering conflicts in Africa.

"It’s a very small group of people who work in conflict zones,” Brooks said. “We basically all know each other or are connected in one way or another. After many years of shared experiences, we’re bonded in ways that make us like family. I think only soldiers can understand what I mean.

"For me photography is about being the eyes for those who cannot see," she said.

Topol was among the dozens of freelance journalists who went to Libya in 2011 to cover the revolution there, and describes getting to know other reporters and photographers who then went to cover Syria, including Foley.

In a piece she wrote for Newsweek in 2012, Topol explained how Foley and photographer Nicole Tsung, 29, were covering the Syrian conflict in Aleppo, and Tsung had relayed how many inexperienced freelancers she had seen coming to Syria to try and report. Foley disappeared just a month after Topol's piece was published.

Brooks said she didn't know Foley personally, but acted as a "conduit" for those looking for him and those who may have known more about his whereabouts. "I am devastated by his death," she said.

The troupe of hungry freelancers stay in close contact with one another, using Facebook, GChat and Skype to stay in touch from places around the world, Topol said. "I would say [we] try to meet up when we are in the same city. There's always a freelancer's couch to crash on)."

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