While every reporter wants to be first on the scene, you'd think that this would also be a great way to wind up filming your own bloody death and/or dismemberment -- the early days of an African rebellion are chaos incarnate. But, according to Pelton, the first journalist into a war zone might be the safest; once the bad guys get used to journalists being in-country, that's when they start making plans to snatch them up and/or murder them.
"After the waves of journalists get into a country ... a pattern gets established. Groups of locals called 'fixers' establish businesses driving journalists to the front lines. Certain bars, cafes, hotels become the 'safe' place every journalist uses. That's when the plans get hatched. These days there are no guarantees, not even a giant sign that says PRESS on your chest will protect you. The Geneva Convention is a fiction."
In South Sudan with White Army
(Robert Young Pelton)
Although traveling with a group of heavily armed soldiers does tend to scare off the lower-tier riff-raff.
So how in the hell has he managed to make it in and out of so many war zones without winding up as a corpse or a hostage? He has rules:
"Stay away from pack journalism. Stay away from the 'tourists.' Use your own brain, not what you read before you left. Terrorists and rebels rarely plunge into kidnapping Westerners willy-nilly. It's something they need to plan, and if you move quickly, never tell people where you are going, and stay away from places that journalists frequent, kidnappers won't have time to make you their guest."