Journalists tended to view their function, or why they write what they do, in three different ways. Several mentioned providing the voice of a side (generally, the terrorists) that is not reported, while some emphasized storytelling. Some also said they tried to remain objective in their writing but expressed their views during interviews, and journalists disagreed about their ultimate goals.

The journalists interviewed tended to view their functions as journalists as finding the gap in coverage. For most, the gap is providing more in-depth coverage of the inner workings of terrorist organizations. For Graeme Wood, that meant describing Richard Spencer’s beliefs. Ahmad Salkida, Jamela Alindogan and Rukmini Callimachi specifically mentioned balance, or the lack of it that they see in coverage of terrorism. Salkida said that he tried to not report military press releases because the majority of journalists covering Boko Haram already did, and by reporting from Boko Haram’s information, he created balance. Alindogan said she reported different aspects of the war, especially the perspectives of civilians and the vulnerable. Callimachi said that reporters never asked ISIS for comment but that the job of a reporter was to provide insight on terrorists’ motivations, strategies and the government responses. César Fagoaga gave a similar view when he said that his job was to inform the public of the actions or abuses of both gang members and the police or authority. Thus, multiple reporters said that relying on official sources creates imbalance, and that their jobs should be incorporating nuance by explaining the other side’s views.

Tied to this idea is the view that journalism should create a narrative to explain a problem. Salkida, Aurelien Breeden, Callimachi, Juan Forero and Alindogan all mention storytelling as a part of journalism. Salkida believes that he must give voice to victims and has a large part in shaping the narrative after events of terror. In doing so, he said, he provided understanding of a problem, which was essential for finding a solution. Breeden said that journalists must explain why an event happened and what led to that event, analytically, to avoid giving terrorists a platform. Callimachi believes that stories move readers in a way that basic, factual reporting cannot, she said. Forero said he personally liked to report in-depth stories with big themes to make a situation understandable. Alindogan said that she sought to give a voice to the voiceless.

Journalists disagreed on whether they should remain neutral or could express their views, with most saying that they should write unbiased reports but tell their subjects their views. Sulome Anderson said that when she reported, she did her best to be objective and empathetic, though she was open about her views on Hezbollah. Jorge Sainz Gómez said that he did his best to be objective, although the basic of his reporting was rejecting the violence of ETA. Vegas Tenold said that he questioned his subjects when they said things he disagreed with.

Finally, journalists did not all agree about their role in stopping the violence they report on. To Anderson, a journalist’s job is to report what is happening, not to stop it. Tenold said he had an agenda and disagreed with white nationalists, but he did not believe that his book would defeat them. Instead, he said, he hoped it would better explain what drives racism. It seems journalists themselves are still figuring out the larger purpose of their writing.