A New Memory of War
In Zelizer, B. and Tenenboim-Weinblatt, K. (Eds.) Journalism and Memory, Basingstoke: Palgrave
On the mediality of memory
Just as personal memory functions through matching the here-and-now with an intelligible there-and-
then, by shifting context, re-framing meaning and massive selectivity, journalism has long held – and
imagined – a larger aperture of social memory. This relationship – between journalism and social
memory – is ridden with the news values of rupture and catastrophe, paradoxically tinting the
journalistic lens by framing incoming uncertainties with the historical certainties of the survival of
societies and the continuities of the past. In this way the journalistic churning of late twentieth and
early twenty-first-century history is particularly entangled with the contemporary memory boom(s) or
‘turn to memory,’ with an increasing premium being placed on historical discourses and memories of
warfare in modern societies (Huyssen, 2003; Winter, 2006). At the same time, the salience of
journalistic schemas – premised on the scarcity of journalists, their experience and their embodiment
of the ‘matching of context’ – has suddenly been devalued. The ‘connective turn’ (Hoskins, 2011a
and b) – the massively increased pervasiveness and accessibility of digital technologies, devices and
media – has ushered in a ‘post-scarcity culture’ and charged a wholesale reappraisal of the nature and
the value of journalism.
In this chapter I explore the dynamic relationship between journalism, memory and conflict,
subject to the connective turn. My focus is on photojournalism, given both the significance of the
visual in forging memory and the fluidity of digital and digitized visual content that transforms the
‘infrastructures’ of information and archives from which memory and history are made. If we take
journalists as formerly comprising a relatively bounded and professionally exclusive ‘living archive’
of information and interpretation, what difference does the unbounding of journalism today have on
social memory as it is forged through visual schema?
Is it not the case that whereas once we could conceive of journalists as ‘agents of memory’
(Zelizer, 2008), this agency (in assembling, interpreting, publishing news-of-the-world) is now
diffused to the many, rather than the few, of the digital network? Following from this, surely the
information avalanche of post-scarcity culture should at least loosen, if it does not undermine, the
tight coupling of iconic trajectories of twentieth-century warfare from the ways in which recent and
emergent catastrophes and conflicts are seen and embedded in journalism and remembered today? In
what follows I consider why these digital expectations do not as yet appear to have been quite
fulfilled and why the contemporary memory boom, driven by photojournalistic trajectories of vision
and re-vision still appears to be in full swing.
A great deal is being claimed about the advent of the digital in shaping whatever journalism is
and does today and what that means in handing over influence to non-professionals. In addition to the
‘citizen,’ we have news of the amateur and the emergent ‘asymmetric’ power of ‘information doers’
(Gowing, 2009). The metaphors of liberation fall thick and fast; journalism is today prefixed in terms
of ‘multimedia’ (Deuze, 2004), ‘digital’ (Jones and Salter, 2011) (including a new journal entitled
Digital Journalism), ‘participatory’ (Singer et al., 2011), ‘citizen’ (Allan and Thorsen, 2009; Wall,
2012) and ‘citizenship’ (Tunney and Monaghan, 2009).
This liberation of journalism is seen to be – in part at least – liberation from the institutional
media monsters, the world of conglomerates, moguls, and that which Dan Gillmor (2006) calls ‘Big
Media’ – the CNNs, News Corps, Reuters and the picture agencies.
‘Small media,’ then, consisting of highly mobile and networked recording and
communication devices increasingly packaged as ‘smart phones,’ shape a new flux of amateur content
that both challenges and stimulates contemporary journalism. Such accessible, affordable and
pervasive technologies are seen to complicate the dominance of Big Media in determining what is
seen and not seen as ‘news.’ As Merrin (2008) puts it, ‘The top-down provision of information is
replaced by peer-produced relationships with news of the world being replaced by news of the self.’
Suddenly that which was once sourced, edited and distributed by the few for the many is complicated
by a ‘new mass’ (Hoskins and O’Loughlin, forthcoming) of routine and everyday editing, posting,
circulating, linking, liking, mixing and remediating digital content so even that which was once
established and recognized as ‘news’ in the late twentieth century has become strange.
But what does all of this digital flux add up to? Are the established images of war made
through and by an era when there was only Big Media journalism diminished by the emergent
multitude, redefined by the digital and/or actually reinforced in their digital reincarnation? For
example, Geoff Bowker argues that ‘Each new medium imprints its own special flavor to the
memories of that epoch’ (2008: 26). And yet, post-scarcity culture produces a kind of equivalency –
not in the aesthetic and other representational features of the photograph, video, or film, for example,
through which each visual epoch has traditionally been defined (black-and-white, sepia, clarity, and
all of the markers of deterioration) – but rather in terms of mediality (compare Richard Grusin, 2004,
2010). So, rather than representationality and the nature, objectivity or accuracy of an image being put
foremost, in post-scarcity culture the medial force of images, video and the like is increased by their
being consumed, posted, forwarded, circulated, edited, linked, liked, tagged, archived, and by all the
new ‘work’ associated with the mediation and remediation of the digital.
The ‘agency’ of journalists as makers of memory is then reconfigured with the mediality of
images and footage uploaded and downloaded by a whole gamut of ‘users,’ including journalists
themselves, all of which is constitutive of a new ‘extended present’ (Nowotny, 1994) or an afterlife of
media and memory. To mention one example of the new mediality of an iconic image of war: the
1968 Eddie Adams’s photograph of the execution of a member of the Vietcong, which freezes the
fractional moment just before the act of execution. Today, this image is plugged in as part of a
continuous ‘chain of memory’ (Hervieu-Léger, 2000) hyperlinked in time and space through the
mediality of the internet. As Fred Ritchin (2009: 140) suggests, ‘If the reader clicked on the famous
photograph… he or she could see the images that preceded and followed it. If the reader clicked on
the man doing the shooting, he or she could find out that he later opened a pizzeria in Dale City,
The ‘special flavor to the memories’ of post-scarcity culture is mediality – a
hyperconnectivity of past and present that challenges traditional modes of representation from which
individual and social memory has long been forged and reforged. And yet, at the same time, the
traditional modes of media that furnished the iconic twentieth-century images of warfare –
photojournalism and television journalism – while of course changed by mediality, offer a ‘chain of
memory’ that is in some ways resistant to techno-cultural change. This is particularly salient in the
contemporary news reporting of warfare, given how suddenly and deeply mediality appears now to
define a new visibility of and from the front line (compare Hoskins and O’Loughlin, 2010). I now
turn to explore further this seeming dichotomy and the persistence of a mainstream vision of warfare
after the connective turn.
Mainstream past and present
The contemporary representation of warfare is probably one of the most intense sites of the
dichotomy between and interpenetration of the persistence of a ‘mainstream’ news media, on the one
hand, and a sense of flux, of everything being connected, remediated and networked in an all-
equivocating mesh of mediality, on the other. Over the past two decades, perceptions in and by
modern societies have shifted from the occasional and distant occurrence of nodal conflicts to a
stream of more connected and seemingly co-present wars demanding continuous attention (Shaw,
1996: 2). For example, a series of twenty-first-century terrorist attacks and the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan are embedded in a connective turn: the massively increased pervasiveness and
accessibility of digital technologies, devices and media shape a new knowledge base – an
‘information infrastructure’1 (Bowker and Star, 2000) – through which wars are planned, fought,
understood, (de)legitimized, remembered and forgotten. These in turn shape new symmetries in the
discourses on and the capacities for the waging of war and are a significant driver of claims about a
shift in the very character of contemporary warfare (for example, Münkler, 2005; Shaw, 2005;
Hoskins and O’Loughlin, 2010). Thus warfare has become more medial.
Modern warfare is shaped by two different types of mediated memory. The first concerns the
continuity of the past through its constant referencing and re-referencing in a journalistic déjà vu. The
second offers memory as unfinished, unsettled and mobile. This is not to say that the latter (flux)
doesn’t carry the former (continuity) but that they shape a ‘new memory’ that comprises both a clash
and mesh of media. What I am questioning here is what this new memory is and what it does. What is
its force compared with preceding kinds of media memory? To this end I now turn to consider 9/11 –
one of the most iconic catastrophes of the twenty-first century, whose mediation occurred prior to the
full force of the connective turn but was nonetheless subject to a new critical mass of circulating
media images of the event, framed in relation to prior (twentieth century) conflict.
From his analysis of the covers of 400 daily American newspapers from the 11th and 12th of
September 2001, Clément Chéroux found that the front page photographs fall into six image types
(see Truc, 2010). He makes the point that: ‘September 11 is undoubtedly the most photographed event
in the history of photojournalism. Yet coverage of the event seems to have been the least diversified’
(Chéroux, 2012). Big Media are clearly part of the explanation for this convergence of vision, with
the Associated Press responsible for 72 percent of the photographs from the front pages examined in
However, this phenomenon in itself is relatively unremarkable, known in journalism as
picture or image ‘clustering,’ where photojournalists tend to use or take identical or very similar
photographs of the same phenomenon. And, as Chéroux acknowledges, the scale of this conformity
around 9/11 can be explained by the consolidation of Big Media image agencies since the 1990s.
However, more interesting for Chéroux is a different temporality of the repetition of images, namely
that extending across a historical timescale. He calls this ‘intericonicity,’ drawing upon Gérard
Genette’s definition of ‘intertextuality’ as ‘a relation of copresence between two texts or among
several texts: that is to say, eidetically and typically as the actual presence of one text within another’
(Genette cited in Chéroux, 2012: 269).
Chéroux points to work that shows that media coverage of 9/11 was defined by an ‘essential
topos’ of the World War II Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor both through image comparisons and
iconographic rhetoric (2012: 263). Interestingly, there is a long history of work on the somewhat
similar phenomenon of the role of ‘media templates’ (Kitzinger, 2000; Hoskins, 2004a and b; Hoskins
and O’Loughlin, 2007, 2010). Media templates are the frames, images and, more broadly, discourses
(presumed by journalists, news editors and producers to be familiar to their audiences) that are
routinely employed as sometimes near-instantaneous prisms through which current and unfolding
events are described, presented and contextualized. But templates are not always benign, as Kitzinger
suggests: ‘Media templates are a crucial site of media power, acting to provide context for new
events, serving as a foci for demands for policy change and helping to shape the ways in which we
make sense of the world’ (2000: 81).
Furthermore, the importance of templates is often signified by their absence, or when they fail
to live up to the task they are employed for. Templates sometimes require a great deal of explicit and
overt working through, where an image or video has to be churned over and reiterated until a lens
with enough relevance or force can be found to make an unfolding event intelligible. This was
certainly the case in the US on 11 September 2001, when television news anchors and commentators
struggled to find a template of sufficient magnitude and meaning that would hold a point of
comparison to the unfolding news coverage of 9/11 (Hoskins, 2005). Television journalists at least
initially struggled in their use of the templates of Pearl Harbor and the Vietnam War, for despite their
presence in American historical consciousness they both seemed to lack the force of catastrophic
memory required to render 9/11 quickly intelligible.
And yet, intelligible it became. This was achieved in part through repetition (compare
Silverstone, 2002), with 9/11 remaining headline news across most US media for the following 12
However, 9/11 marks the last major catastrophic media event of an era occurring on the cusp
of the connective turn. The wars and other terrorist attacks (related and unrelated) which have
followed are subject to the immediacy and volume of a different scale. This is due to the profound
mobility and connectivity of digital media content, which rather than fixing a trajectory of memory,
puts it out there, opens it up and renders it mutable. What then of the icons and templates of the
mainstream in this environment?
The persistence of vision
I now turn to the idea that rather than post-scarcity culture leading to new ways of seeing the present
and past, mainstream media trajectories appear actually to have consolidated amidst the uncertainties
of the speed and flux of the digital. For example, in terms of popular culture, Jaron Lanier (2010: 131)
draws upon the anthropologist Steve Barnett’s term ‘pattern exhaustion’, to bemoan ‘a phenomena in
which a culture runs out of variations on traditional designs… and becomes less creative’ (compare
Lovink, 2012: 9).
Perhaps this is a critique that can be leveled at journalism itself.
So much has been written on the shifting visual content of war reporting and representation
and its claimed effects and lack of effects that it is impossible to summarize in the scope of this
chapter. However, I will say that there has occurred a small but discernable turn in conflict
photojournalism or photography away from ‘pattern exhaustion’ towards a kind of ‘media
archeology’ of warfare and other catastrophes. Alex Danchev, in a review essay, traces this
development in part to the shifting character of warfare:
Now the old wars are over, more or less, and the old breed has gone. In an age of terrorism
and tribalism, obliteration and occupation, war too has been brought home. No man’s land
migrates, from Lower Manhattan to Babylonia itself. As if to ape Don McCullin, war
photography has turned to still life and landscape. The finest practitioners in the world today
conduct a kind of autopsy. Gilles Peress traces the bones, the most reliable witnesses to
atrocity. Simon Norfolk fixes the afterburn, using a wood and brass field camera, with tripod,
magnifying glass to focus, and blanket over the head. Stupendous images slowly form on
negative plates. They contain few people but many remains.
(Danchev, 2005: 215)
Given this characterization, I want to develop the perspective of Simon Norfolk who
considers that war journalism does suffer from a kind of pattern exhaustion (Norfolk, 2012). Norfolk
is an award-winning landscape photographer whose work over the last decade or so has probed the
notion of ‘battlefield’ in all its forms. His work, taken in some of the world’s worst war zones and
refugee crises, is as much archeology as photography, revealing the fossilization of time. For
example, Norfolk (following Bakhtin) calls a collection of his work on Afghanistan ‘Chronotopia’ –
where space and time come together to forge a single frame or chronotope. Norfolk’s study of
Afghanistan reveals the layering of the sedimentations of over 30 years of warfare, with the scars and
remains of the landscape as the only evidence of the carnage of such persistent modern war in one
Norfolk’s argument is useful to consider as a practitioner’s perspective on the dichotomy set
up here, between the flux of the new and the persisting trajectories of the old, and how this tension
and transition produces both new interpenetrations and contestations of social memory.
In terms of the journalistic representation of warfare, Norfolk considers the ways in which
new technologies of warfare are challenging the representation of war. He conceives that the way war
is photographed and fought – two realms that used to be intimately connected – have spent the last 40
years or so falling away from each other. Norfolk points us to the visual politics site ‘BagNews’ and
the work of Michael Shaw to illustrate this argument.
Shaw (2011) observes that three separate Western mainstream news organizations – Time, the
Toronto Star and the New York Times – sent three of the leading photojournalists in the business–
James Nachtwey, Louie Palu and Tyler Hicks, respectively – to Afghanistan. And they all returned
with virtually the same picture, all publishing their photostories within a two-week period in January
2011 (Shaw, 2011). These pictures all depict wounded US marines in the rear of a military ‘medevac’
helicopter being airlifted out of the Afghan warzone to safety.
Subsequently, Shaw found a number of similar photographs published in 2010, 2011 and
2012 across a range of mainstream media. In drawing attention to what he calls ‘redundancy,’ Shaw
makes clear that his intention is not to disrespect the photographers, the soldiers, or the medevac
missions and their saving of lives. Instead, he argues, ‘this is a stunning display of American
chauvinism given the intimate framing of the war in such a redundantly heroic narrative, all eyes on
our warriors as saviors on high. And then, what does it mean that such high-profile redundancy can
occur with hardly a notice?’ (Shaw, 2011).
Norfolk characterizes the effect of this redundancy across photojournalism as ‘running down
tramlines.’ Despite the array of photographs that could be taken and potentially published from the
war in Afghanistan, there appears a particularly persistent expectation (on the part of picture editors,
photojournalists and other newsworkers) of what a mainstream version of warfare looks like. Norfolk
argues that ‘these are the award winning pictures, the pictures the magazines expect to see, so the
problem with memory starts with what is being generated on the battlefield.’
But significantly, the ‘tramlines’ Norfolk speaks of are not merely synchronic to Afghanistan
in early 2011 but rather follow a much longer mainstream photojournalism trajectory of the medevac
image, embedded in earlier US wars. He argues that this includes David C. Turnley’s World Press
Photo of the Year, which, in turn, is a ‘re-shoot’ of the iconic Larry Burrows’s Vietnam photograph
on the cover of Life magazine in April 1965: ‘The photographers are photographing the same thing:
they’re re-photographing a picture that was made 50 years ago. Those pictures from the Vietnam War
are 50 years old. The photographers are looking for 50 year old photographs in the modern electronic
cyberwarfare battlefield’ (Norfolk 2012). The persistence of this mainstream photojournalistic
visioning of warfare is partly explicable through the emergent challenges of picturing developing
technologies of war. (This is part of a longer history in the development of distancing technologies of
warfare and the emergence of a new ‘logistics of military perception’ (Virilio 1989: 7).) Norfolk
offers the example of computer viruses as a significant emergent part of cyberwarfare which is not
representable in the same way as traditional warfare: ‘How do you photograph a drone flying over
Yemen at 40,000 feet and firing a missile into a car in the middle of nowhere? You can’t photograph
it. How do you photograph satellite warfare or submarine systems, or cyberwarfare? That’s how the
war of the future is being fought, that is where the money is being spent… I don’t know how to
photograph any of that stuff’ (Norfolk, 2012).
So, as new technologies facilitate a ‘militarized regime of hypervisibility’ (original italics;
Gregory 2011: 193), enabling an increasingly remote (although not necessarily less intimate) means
of locating and killing the enemy, the copresence of journalists and consequently their capacity to
represent warfare is increasingly compromised. In this way, the trajectories of the icons of twentieth-
century war fill the mainstream representational void. This is evident both in the ‘tramlines’ of
photojournalism identified by Norfolk and in the disjunctures of the mediated and political templates
of warfare. For example, the US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, highlighting cyber attacks and the
growing threat posed by them to US interests, recently declared ‘the collective result of these kinds of
attacks could be a cyber Pearl Harbor.’ And this part of the speech was precisely the headline used in
the reporting of the story by BBC News online (BBC News, 2012). A selective memory of twentieth-
century warfare is thus re-articulated through the difficulties in both escaping its legacy – in US
political and media consciousness – and in finding a means of visual representation and political
rhetoric that gives a sufficient materialization and measure of the threat of emergent war without
media/memory. In sum, the photojournalism of war has narrowed the aperture of social
memory at least in its defining of certain image trajectories or ‘tramlines.’ This seems oddly counter
to post-scarcity culture’s unbounding of journalism’s living archive of information and interpretation.
But what exactly is the new living archive of warfare, and what kind of memory does it produce in
contesting or reinforcing the persistence of a particular vision of the wars of today and twentieth-
Memory of the long tail
The immediacy of digital technologies and social media drives an acceleration of the circulation of
information and the production of news, stealing the clothes of broadcast media. And this immediacy
renders memory, as I suggested above, as spontaneous, unfinished, unsettled and mobile, in
contradistinction to the seemingly more orderly, contrived and continuous journalistic living archive.
The reality is that these two kinds of distinct and separate memory are also blended together. The
mediality of war memory is apparent, for example, with the ready availability of media content of the
war in Afghanistan. A quick search of YouTube reveals a panoply of samples of both the mainstream
remediated and the unofficial and unauthorized – ‘raw combat footage,’ ‘helmet cam footage,’ ‘sniper
kill shot,’ ‘marine sniper, one shot one kill, Afghanistan’ – not jostling for a punctual or simultaneous
audience but instead awaiting their algorithmic return from the searches of users.
This is just a fragment of the effect that Geoffrey Bowker calls a ‘databasing of the world’
(original italics; Bowker, 2007: 22). (Databases here are the ‘set of traces…available and searchable
on the Internet’ (Bowker, 2007: 36, n1).) For Bowker, the databasing of the world marks a shift ‘from
the era of recorded memory to one of potential memory’ (2007: 26), so that remembrance is possible
should the need ever arise. This is memory of the long tail – where there are an almost infinite number
of variations of aggregation from the endlessly remediated and recontextualized right down to the
untouched, unfound and forgotten.
Memory of the long tail begs the question: what is the threshold for a collective or social
memory of warfare after the connective turn? Certainly, the trajectories of warfare embedded in
twentieth-century frames and icons are traceable over time. For example, Michael Griffin’s (2004)
study of US mainstream magazine photo coverage of the Iraq War found that the number of combat
photographs (from the front line) comprised 10 percent of published pictures, which is perhaps
surprising given the scale and (political and military) success of ‘embedding’ with this war. And
David Campbell (2011: 153) suggests that this work ‘demonstrates that news pictures are less
concerned with the first-hand recording of events and more with the repetition of familiar subjects and
themes.’ In other words, mainstream media trajectories serve the ‘official’ war narrative (ibid.).
But magazine photojournalism and other visual media such as television (including their
online variants) are embedded in medium-specific histories, through which they see (or don’t see) the
emergent world of war. To what extent, then, is the generational journalistic memory of warfare being
broken up and fragmented, so that the familiar trajectories are disrupted and disconnected?
Databasing the world can be seen as a ‘process of disembedding information that was once
more tightly bound to professional communities, with their tightly controlled forms of accreditation
and membership’ (David, 2007: 177). Will the unbounding of journalism – in terms of the availability
of digital recording and publication in post-scarcity culture – also ultimately lead to an unbounding of
memory, and, in Zelizer’s (2008) terms, diminish journalists as ‘agents’ of memory?
In sum, and currently at least, there appears to be both convergence and coexistence here,
between a trajectory of a journalistic vision of what warfare looks like and that which is driven by the
flux of the digital. So, just as the tightly-bound journalistic information is disembedded (by the so-
called ‘amateur’ and via digital technologies and media), the mediality of memory is in turn
appropriated by journalists and re-embedded into a mainstream accounting of war.
However, mediality, in the databasing of the world and the editing, posting, circulating,
linking, liking, mixing and remediating of digital content, nonetheless offers more immediate modes
of remembering that seem to occur ‘on-the-fly’ (Hoskins, 2009). This is in contrast to being rendered
as settled, stable or derived from a fixed space and/or trajectory of remembrance (archive, museum,
The established and emergent modes of representation and mediation– from journalistic
schemas to mediality – appear to consume the memory of conflict and catastrophe. Yet, these
different and even oppositional features of the contemporary memory boom provoke counter-
memorial imaginations and practices. The work of Simon Norfolk, for instance, is indicative of an
emergent media archeology in an era characterized by excess (of media, memory and war) that
challenges and reveals a memory of warfare with new resonance and force.
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