Kudos to Richard Perez-Pena for his profile of Iraq-based military-blogger Michael Yon in Monday's front-page Business section article, "Frontline Blogger Covers War in Iraq With a Soldier's Eyes." As a blogger, Yon doesn't get the attention he deserves for his reports from Iraq, and Perez-Pena's article goes some way to rectify the situation.
"Michael Yon was not a journalist, and he wasn't sure what a blogger was. He had been in uniform but not in combat, and he wanted to keep it that way. He went to Iraq thinking he would stay for a month, and maybe find a way to write about the war after he got home.
"Instead, he has spent most of the last three years in Iraq, writing prolifically and graphically, and racking up more time embedded with combat units than any other journalist, according to the United States military. He has been shot at, buffeted by explosions and seen more people maimed - fighters and civilians, adults and children - than he can count.
"'The easiest thing in the world to write about is combat, because all the drama is there,' said Mr. Yon, a fit, ruddy-faced 43-year-old who was a Special Forces soldier more than two decades ago. He insists that he still does not really know the rules of journalism, but says he has recently, grudgingly, accepted that he has become a journalist.
"His detailed, mostly admiring accounts of front-line soldiers' daily work have won him a loyal following, especially among service members and journalists and bloggers who follow the war. One of his photographs showing an American soldier cradling an Iraqi girl injured in a car bombing (the girl later died) appeared on Time magazine's Web site and was later voted one of top images of the year by visitors.
"Mr. Yon, however, does not work for any organization; no news outlet pays him for the hundreds of dispatches and photos he has produced. He publishes his work on his own Web site, michaelyon-online.com (some will appear again in a book set for release in April), and he also posts submissions from military people serving in Iraq. He says contributions from his readers have paid most of his costs, though he declines to say how much they have given.
"Like most bloggers, Mr. Yon has an agenda, writing often that the United States' mission to build a stable, democratic Iraq is succeeding and must continue. He rarely disparages those who disagree, though, and he does not shy away from describing the disturbing things he sees.
"He sometimes criticizes United States forces, their Iraqi allies, and even decision makers in Washington; lately, he has warned that while the American focus is on Iraq, Afghanistan is being lost.
"His upbeat outlook on the war has made Mr. Yon a favorite of the war's supporters. But others in that camp have attacked him for insisting that Iraq is in a civil war, and for condemning American treatment of some detainees.
"Along the way, he created a niche outlet that is better reported than most blogs, and more opinionated than most news reporting, with enough first-hand observation, clarity and skepticism to put many professional journalists to shame.
Yon isn't a rah-rah cheerleader of the war effort:
"In an interview, he said that when he first went to Iraq, in December 2004, 'I knew we were losing the war,' and that 'it was worse than the news was portraying.'
"He said that in the early going, the military mishandled both the fighting and the press, and that among field commanders, 'I started finding quite a few that seemed to be dialed in and knew what they were doing, and I found quite a lot that were quite clueless.'
"Little of that dark view made its way into his dispatches, especially in his first year."