c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

When Secretary of State John Kerry delivered the United States’ report Friday about the use of chemical weapons in Syria, he noted that “all hell broke loose in the social media” just 90 minutes after the alleged attack. As evidence of atrocities, the report cites thousands of social media updates and videos, along with reports from intelligence agencies, journalists and medical personnel.

Western journalists are struggling to cover what the world has so far seen largely through YouTube. But while some television news crews have been filing reports from Damascus, the dangers of reporters being killed or kidnapped there — as well as visa problems — have kept the majority of journalists outside the country’s borders and heightened the need for third-party footage.

“The difficulty of getting into Syria, the shrunken foreign correspondent corps, and the audience gains for social media make it likely this story will be consumed differently by the American public than tensions or conflicts in past years,” said Ann Marie Lipinski, the curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.

The Committee to Protect Journalists calls Syria the deadliest country in the world for reporters. Last year, 28 journalists working there were killed, and 18 have died so far this year, according to the group, a nonprofit based in New York.

For networks without a Syrian correspondent, partnerships with other organizations supply some video. ABC works with the BBC, for example, and NBC with ITN. But the networks also rely on YouTube and other third-party sources, which have yielded some of the most vivid and disturbing video of the conflict, but has also brought a host of verification problems.

This week, CNN broadcast a film showing what purported to be evidence of mass graves, and said that it came from “an independent filmer who is absolutely trustworthy.” CBS News uses a team of Arabic-speaking employees in London to review third-party videos, according to Christopher Isham, its Washington bureau chief. For those still within Syria, the challenge has simply been to stay safe. Isham said that CBS went to “extreme lengths” to protect its staff there, although he did not elaborate.

“Anytime you go into a combat zone, your folks are at risk,” he said. “You want to reduce that risk as much as possible.”