By now the images are familiar. Military airplanes from a rich industrial nation taking off to bomb an insurgency. Irregular fighters with AK-47s riding pickup trucks. Foreign journalists standing in front of the national monument telling you the latest. Turn on the news coverage of the Mali conflict and you would be forgiven for thinking you have seen all this before.
But the responsibility of reporters is more than just being in the right place at the right time. There is no such thing as observation without interpretation and words like ‘Islamist’, ‘atrocity’ and — especially — ‘terrorist’ are easy to say but not so easy to define. When journalists slip into the standard narratives there is plenty that does not fit in the picture.