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Two noted photojournalists, Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington, were killed late last month while covering the fighting in Libya.

As NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reports, their deaths remind us how easily pictures can now be transmitted from such dangerous places and yet, how risky the job of a photojournalist remains.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Journalists who cover conflict across the globe make up a small and tight-knit community. Bob Nickelsberg is legendary among them. He was a contract photographer for Time magazine for 25 years, based largely in Central America and South Asia. He says photographers have to make tough choices daily, balancing their assignments against their safety.

Mr. BOB NICKELSBERG (Photojournalist): Well, it starts out in the abstract and moves to the reality of the situation - which is confusing, messy, chaotic and very often humiliating. We're not as courageous as those heroes from movies in Hollywood make us out to be. We're scared most of the time. And there's reason for that. You have to keep your wits about you.

FOLKENFLIK: Nickelsberg is 60. He's planning yet another trip back to Afghanistan this summer. The climate is only more dangerous, as combatants are now targeting journalists as hostile figures rather than considering them mere irritants.

Mr. NICKELSBERG: Urban violence is the worst. You really don't know where anything is coming from. You can't tell by sound, by wind, by sun what to expect. And it's just not possible to watch the rooftop as you're running through rubble.

FOLKENFLIK: Call it brave, call it foolhardy - such work has led to breathtaking pictures of conflict and suffering and yet, many of the most memorable images of recent years have come not from journalists, but from amateurs. Santiago Lyon is director of photography for the Associated Press. He points to the footage of Neda Agha-Soltan, shot by snipers in June 2009 during a crackdown on protesters on the streets of Tehran.

Mr. SANTIAGO LYON (Director of Photography, Associated Press): The images of her dying, essentially, in front of a cell phone camera, were really important in terms of telling the story. And they became, for many people, the iconic images of that attempt that brought the revolt in Iran at the time. And they're a testament to the value of that sort of imagery.

FOLKENFLIK: And such citizen or amateur journalism, he says, has increasingly become an essential part of coverage, especially in areas that are not accessible to outsiders. Yet Lyon says news professionals still serve a vital role in applying journalistic approaches to verifying that those images are what they appear to be.

Mr. LYON: It's very important, when that material is picked up by journalistic organizations, that it be vetted as thoroughly as possible, and that it be put into context as much as possible. But essentially, what it often can have is a tremendous power and tremendous storytelling strength.

FOLKENFLIK: In Syria and Bahrain, repressive regimes have tossed out many Western journalists. Most of the shots and footage capturing the protests and bloody reprisals there come from people in the streets themselves. But every combat journalist I talked to said despite the risks, it's worth the effort by professionals to try to get to such hot spots.

Ms. STEPHANIE GASKELL: Those snapshots that citizen journalists take are hugely important. But I think that they can't replace a journalist.

FOLKENFLIK: Stephanie Gaskell is a former combat reporter for the New York Daily News, and now runs the nonprofit blog called WarReportOnline.com. She considers the late Chris Hondros a friend and mentor.

Ms. GASKELL: Just because you're a war photographer doesn't mean you're not a journalist. They're not just out there snapping at whatever's in front of them. You know, they're telling a story and, you know, they're not just in that one spot.

FOLKENFLIK: Technology is actually a double-edged sword. For reporters, it has shrunk the world. They can upload their stories quickly, thanks to portable satellite technology. And thanks to satellite phones, Skype, Facebook and email services, reporters can talk with sources and eye-witnesses across distances too far or too arduous to travel.

For photographers, that question of immediacy also holds true. But it plays out a bit differently. In past eras, they often return to bureaus well away from combat to send their film and pictures back to their newsrooms. No longer, says the AP's Santiago Lyon.

Mr. LYON: So what that means is that journalists are able to spend more time in harm's way. On the one hand, it speeds up the transmission of information from a conflict area. On the other hand, it exposes journalists for longer amounts of time to more danger and thus, makes the whole thing more risky.

FOLKENFLIK: Yet, Lyon notes, photographers still voluntarily choose to go.

Mr. LYON: It's a very intimate thing, in some ways. I mean, what we're talking about here, in essence, is a relationship a relationship with danger; a relationship with death, in some cases; a relationship with adrenaline; a relationship with intensity of experience.

And like a lot of relationships, to those outside of them they are a mystery, of sorts.

FOLKENFLIK: And so even as they mourn the loss of dear friends, photojournalists weigh the risks and in many cases, head right back to hot spots so they can bear witness to war, suffering and repression, and share what they've learned with the world.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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