Battlefields and bikes: blogging from the edge

"Get yourself set up with a Twitter account. It's a nice, low-cost way of letting people know if you get into trouble or are kidnapped. You can agree on a keyword with friends to use if they need to start mobilising help for you and then you can just text that word when you are in such a situation."

That's the advice of Alex Strick van Linschoten. Sounds overly paranoid for everyday blogging, but then again, he's no everyday blogger.

Based in Afghanistan, van Linschoten is the only journalist in Kandahar who isn't embedded with the military. He feels his 'free-roaming' blog, From the Frontline, plays an important role in bringing the reality of the conflict to the outside world.

"Everyone's doing embeds," he says. "It's almost the only reportage you read that comes out of southern Afghanistan. I'd rather look at things from the other side of the fence."

Not being attached to the military comes with its own challenges, he admits, not least the heightened physical danger he puts himself in as a result. But there are compensations.

"From here in my house in Kandahar City I can get in a car at any time and travel to where I need to go, without having to worry about getting permissions or military escorts," he explains.

"Most of the journalists living on the big ISAF/NATO military base have severe restrictions on their movements. I'm not saying we shouldn't cover the military effort in Afghanistan, just that I'm not interested in it, and I think we also have a moral duty to write about what's happening to Afghans. Unfortunately, there's been very little interest in their side of the story, particularly at a time when news coverage of Afghanistan in general is on the wane."

Van Linschoten turned to blogging because he was frustrated with traditional media outlets. "I'd tried working as a freelancer in Afghanistan a few years ago, but too often the angle of the story was being decided on in advance in London or wherever," he says.

"In any case, the story will always be more complicated than can be fitted into a 700 or 1,000-word piece. On the blog, I can write long, unedited pieces to my heart's content. Ultimately, it's also a way of giving a more personal angle to the stories that I'm writing and I can embed video and sound on my blog to give readers more of an idea of what it's actually like to be here in Kandahar."

Power shortages

Keeping the blog updated is fraught with difficulties. "There might be technical issues with the website. The internet may not be fast enough to upload pictures, or to upload videos from my Flip Camera onto YouTube. Or there might not be electricity, so we have to turn on a generator," says van Linschoten.

"Otherwise, if you're outside the city it's impossible to upload as there's no internet connection. So I use Twitter a lot, updating via text message from my Afghan mobile phone when I'm travelling around in the south. Sometimes I have to email my blog posts to a friend to upload for me."

In 2006 Ben Hammersley worked as a multimedia reporter in Afghanistan for Guardian Unlimited. He then reported from Turkey in the run-up to the general elections in 2007 for the BBC, posting to YouTube and Flickr. He also covered the 2008 Pakistan general elections for

Reporting on a blog saves time, says Hammersley, and it's this fact – rather than the visual style of a blog – that makes it an attractive medium for him to use. "The content management systems used in blogs are just so much better for fast-moving journalism than traditional large-media CMSs," he says.

They also gave him the chance to produce different material than that which was coming from traditional media.

"Most of the time it was more diary-like and perhaps a little richer, in terms of multimedia. But generally I found that the blog style doesn't suit war reporting as much as you might think it would. This is because a lot of foreign news is a mix of short periods of action, with long waits in between. It's hard to make that into an interesting blog."

The need for a web connection is a constant struggle. "You need a satellite phone and a clear line of sight to the horizon," says Hammersley. "In Afghanistan that can be hard; in Beirut, your hotel Wi-Fi changes things completely; the Philippine jungle makes both impossible."

You also need to carry a lot of extra gear around with you – and to get used to it breaking. "I've filled a few PowerBooks with sand from helicopter downdrafts. That sounds terribly glamorous until you've done it a few times and found your screen is going cloudy."

Global Editor-in-Chief

After watching War Games and Tron more times that is healthy, Paul (Twitter, Google+) took his first steps online via a BBC Micro and acoustic coupler back in 1985, and has been finding excuses to spend the day online ever since. This includes roles editing .net magazine, launching the Official Windows Magazine, and now as Global EiC of TechRadar.