Dispatches from the Front
Reporting from a war zone, as several Tufts graduates and experts attest, is risky business in more ways than one.
When Patrick Healy arrived in Afghanistan in November 2001, he brought a satellite phone, 150 PowerBars and $20,000 in tens and twenties stuffed into a brown paper bag.
It was unlike any packing job he had done before. Healy (A'93), then a higher education reporter with The Boston Globe, had volunteered for the Afghanistan assignment in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. A first-time war zone reporter, he went into the situation with little idea of what to expect. When he boarded his flight from Munich to Tajikistan en route to the Afghan capital of Kabul, Healy recalled he "just hoped that the plane would fly."
It was the flying that bothered Adrian Baschuk (A'02) when he arrived in Baghdad as an embedded journalist in December 2005. Baschuk is the Middle East correspondent for Current, the online and cable video network launched by Al Gore in August 2005. He recalls being ferried from the Iraqi airport to Baghdad's Green Zone alone in the belly of a Black Hawk helicopter flying no more than 60 feet above the city's rooftops.
"I was kind of freaking out," he recalls. "We're flying so damn low, how are we not going to get shot down?" As it turns out, the rationale for not flying higher was to reduce the radius for sniper fire and grenade launchers—a harsh introduction to a land fraught with tension.
The challenges faced by war correspondents are numerous, ranging from finding a place to sleep at night to trying not to get kidnapped or shot. But these reporters also tackle the same issues all journalists face—striving for balance, grappling with personal reactions to a story and working against the bottom line.
On April 9, Tufts' second annual Edward R. Murrow Forum on Issues in Journalism will tackle these topics and more in an event titled "What Would Murrow See Now? How the Press Covers War and Conflicts." Organized by the Communications & Media Studies Program, the Murrow Center at The Fletcher School and Tisch College, this year's forum will be moderated by former CBS News anchor Dan Rather.
As both the nature of conflicts and the media climate evolve, reporters will be forced to adapt. But while war zone reporting has its unique challenges, the overall mission of journalism still applies.
"One of the roles of the media is to educate and inform and present the public with questions and information about what's going on," says Jacob Silberberg (A'02), a photojournalist who has covered conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan and elsewhere for outlets ranging from the Associated Press to Newsweek. "I'm not sure the media has to propose the solutions, but just asking the questions and giving people an introduction is a good start."
Of Decisions and Deadlines
From the minute they arrive on the scene, war correspondents are thrust into a situation where little can be predicted or controlled. In a region beset by conflict, finding a roof over your head can often be harder than finding a story.
"You're jockeying your desire to throw yourself into the story with the practical logistics of food, water and shelter," says Healy, now a political reporter for The New York Times. "Communication and logistics are either non-existent or incredibly poor. It's not like you have a PR person you can appeal to or you have some clear chain of command."
Adrian Baschuk (A'02) reporting for Current from the Gaza Strip during a Hamas rally.
Reporters on the ground, who are in the thick of the day-to-day action, correspond with their editors, who may be looking at the bigger picture—or, as Silberberg puts it, "they can see the forest, and I may be stuck in the trees." They work together to shape the coverage you see on the evening news or in the paper.
Crocker Snow, director of the Edward R. Murrow Center for Public Diplomacy at The Fletcher School, covered the Vietnam War as a correspondent for the Globe and later served as the newspaper's national and foreign editor. Behind the editor's desk, he says, a number of issues come into play—even the competitive media pressures of what other publications are leading with the next day. "There is inevitably a little bit of groupthink," he says. (continued)
Profile written by Georgiana Cohen, Office of Web Communications
Homepage photo: U.S. Marine Cpl. Jonathan Santiago takes off his helmet on top of his Amphibious Assault Vehicle after a patrol in Karabilah, Iraq, seven miles from Syria, on Dec. 1, 2005. (Jacob Silberberg (A'02) / Associated Press)
Other photos: Additional Iraq photo by Jacob Silberberg (A'02), Associated Press; Current screen images courtesy of Adrian Baschuk; Murrow photo from Tufts Digital Collections and Archives; Paul Joseph photo by Joanie Tobin, Tufts University Photo; Crocker Snow photo by Melody Ko, Tufts University Photo
This story originally ran on Apr. 9, 2007.