Middle East-based freelancer discusses new documentary “Freelancer on the Front Lines”


Staff reporter

Freelance journalist Jesse Rosenfeld interviews a Syrian refugee. [Courtesy of the National Film Board and Santiago Bertolino]
The room was silent as freelance journalist Jesse Rosenfeld described the horror of seeing a truck filled with corpses.

Rosenfeld said he was in in Dar Bizmar, Iraq, when he saw the bodies of ISIS fighters loosely tied to the bumper of two flatbed trucks mounted with heavy machine guns. Dangling hands and feet dragged on the road.

“I don’t really prepare for [seeing] these things,” Rosenfeld told more than 100 first-year Ryerson journalism students and members of the public. “You try to understand what you’re getting into by knowing as much about what is happening in the area, what kinds of atrocities have been committed.”

Rosenfeld, a Canadian freelance reporter who has worked in the Middle East since 2007, spoke to students on Oct. 27 following a screening of the new National Film Board (NFB) documentary Freelancer on the Front Lines. Filmmaker Santiago Bertolino followed Rosenfeld between 2013 and 2016 as he pitched stories to mainstream news outlets, worked with local fixers, interviewed sources and navigated war zones in Iraq and Syria.

Rosenfeld said the role of a journalist is to report the truth so that the public feels a sense of responsibility to act upon it.

“What I fundamentally believe is that the role of a journalist is to be honest and tell people exactly what is happening in the world from the perspective of those who are most affected by the issues and the policies,” he said. “The people have to be able to … understand the way the world is. The role of the journalist is to give information so that they are responsible to do something about it.”

Rosenfeld has written about people whose lives have been affected by violence in Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Palestine and Turkey. His work has been published with the Nation, the Daily Beast and Al Jazeera.

If people do not feel motivated to push for changes after reading his stories, he said, he does not consider his work to be useful.

Rosenfeld said the NFB documentary highlights how important it is for journalists to be present on the ground, particularly in an era when mainstream news outlets seem to be increasingly reliant on press releases.

“It is important that people receive a perspective that isn’t completely beholden,” Rosenfeld said.

Watch Jesse Rosenfeld’s full Q&A below: