Dispatches from the Front
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Amid all the conflicts in the world that don't receive coverage, Baschuk laments the mainstream media's focus on ratings, sales and gossip.
"Our generation really has a more diverse interest in seeing coverage from around the world," he says of the 18-to-34-year-old demographic that Current targets. The network, which draws content from contributors around the world, has more flexibility in terms of the stories it can feature, and Baschuk says that they can provide viewers with more context and history.
"There are a lot of things you'll see in our reports [that] you won't see in mainstream media, a lot of extended looks at daily life."
In war, there are inevitably multiple sides, each of which is seeking to influence the coverage. The war reporter's challenging task is to make sense of it all and find balance.
Baschuk, on the other hand, says it depends. He fully admits his bias on certain issues, such as the situation in North Korea and suicide bombings in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But in his recent report on the importance of Saudi Arabia as a U.S. ally, Baschuk says he approached it with "zero bias or preconditions whatsoever."
Snow says it's not unusual for a reporter to hold a personal belief about a given situation; when he was covering Vietnam, he believed in the so-called "domino theory" of communism until the Tet Offensive of 1968, which turned the tide of the war. So, while the old adage says that the journalist's role is to be objective, Snow says that isn't as easy as it sounds.
"The very first words you choose to write are a subjective judgment," says Snow. "You may not achieve objectivity, but if you achieve balance in a news story, that's vital."
In The Thick Of It
One challenge to maintaining the balance of the story arises when the subject of a story is also the person providing access and support—as is the case with "embedded journalists" covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The approach marks a shift from the pool coverage that shaped the Persian Gulf War and preceding conflicts. In the Vietnam War, on the other hand, reporters had near free rein across the country.
For Silberberg, the practice of embedding media with the military is just a more formalized extension of the photographer-subject relationship, which comes with a set of rules and expectations governing a certain level of access. In a war zone, however, the rules can change on the fly.
"If the people around you are OK with it and you're OK with it, then what's written on the paper doesn't matter," says Silberberg. "If you take a picture they're not happy about, the next day maybe there isn't an empty seat in the Humvee."
U.S. Marine Pfc. Joseph Nelson, of Puyallup, Washington, runs during a patrol in Karmah, Iraq, on Apr. 24, 2006. (Jacob Silberberg (A'02) / Associated Press)
But embedding, says Snow, can make reports much more dependent on the military, which is "precisely what the Pentagon wanted." He likens embedded media to beat writers for a sports team. "Inevitably, they become cheerleaders to a degree."
Baschuk says that one of the benefits of embedding with the military—particularly for a young journalist from a startup network like himself—is the cost of room, board, security and access: free. And the level of access Baschuk received as he accompanied troops on patrol surprised him.
"Whenever I wanted to get out and interview someone, be it a local shop owner, local officials or members of Mahdi Militia in Sadr City, I was able to do that," he recalls. "They would stop the Humvee and I'd get out, and they even had Iraqi soldiers who were with the U.S. army get out and do the translation for me."
As reporters strive for access in a conflict region, one of the topmost thoughts on their minds is safety. "In comparison to working on other stories that don't involve violent conflict, it's often very hard to get a complete picture in a war, largely because of the personal security of the people reporting," says Silberberg. (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.