Before I started covering the war in Syria from a remote location, I was aware that reporters relied heavily on Skype and social media to cover the crisis. But only when I was in this position myself did I really come to understand how problematic Skype can be as a tool, how intimate relationships, through which a current of tension is always running, inevitably develop over time and infuse every interaction with a flood of emotions. In one Skype room, an intertwined virtual world of reporters, citizen-journalists, military council spokespeople, activists, smugglers, common criminals and fighters can be found.
When you’re in a conflict zone, physically, you and the people on the ground are undergoing the same painful experience. If there’s an airstrike, you experience it in real time. You don’t watch the clip afterward, talk to a person who witnessed it, write something peppered with quotes gleaned from several Skype chat rooms, then close your laptop and move on with your day. There’s no disconnect when you’re in Syria. There are no two parallel realities loosely tied together by an internet connection. The best way to cover the conflict is to be there. Having said that, not everyone is brave enough to embrace the considerable risks, and as the conflict becomes more volatile, and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups gain ground, it has become increasingly more difficult to cross into Syria.