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Making War "News"

Yesterday in this space we discussed a new article that raised the economic problems of covering Iraq … and how it's a difficult business proposition.

But enough from the bean counters, what about the journalism? In the piece, TV news analyst Andrew Tyndall was quoted:

"We're in a period of prolonged news doldrums," says Andrew Tyndall, who analyzes newscasts in the online "Tyndall Report." "Iraq is no longer a headline news story. There are no new things happening there; it's just more of the same. That would be a true thing to say even if the security conditions were better. It's stuck, militarily and diplomatically."
Later on in the piece, CBS Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan took issue with his characterization, saying:
"You don't abandon the American soldiers who are on the streets of this country because people are tired of hearing about it," says Logan. "You don't abandon the Iraqi people. You don't abandon people like that because back home people are tired of hearing about the war. Our job is to find a way through that."
I was interested to hear what Logan meant by "find a way," so I contacted her in Iraq yesterday and asked her to expand on that idea.
When I worked in South Africa, the whole world forgot about us as soon as Apartheid ended and Mandela was in power. We had to find ways to keep people interested and break through that.

In some ways, Iraq is the same, but there is an even greater need because this would be like people losing interest in South Africa while the struggle for freedom was still ongoing.

This is a personal choice. And my view only. And it comes down to the same reason I am here in the first place - to me, it's just not right to sit back while things are done in your name and not take a stand or know what is really going on. We have a duty and a responsibility to ourselves, as individuals, as nations, as human beings, to live by what we believe to be right. How can you do that if no one knows what it really going on?

The media is flawed as we all know. I do not stand here in defense of one and all. But I know that my being here matters to the people I meet. Not everyone and not all the time. But the soldiers who are sweating it out day after day, their families back home who write to me all the time, the Iraqi people I see and talk to day after day - the leaders, the lost, the forgotten, the unwanted, the brilliant, the humble, the evil, the great.

To me, none of them are served if their is no independent record of history to inform the world - and my hope is that collectively, when all our work as journalists is viewed together, a solid accounting of this time will be left.

Any news editor or producer or journalist will tell you the same thing - great stories are great stories no matter what or where, you just have to find them.

What is hard here in Iraq, is that it is so dangerous and difficult to work - for everyone. That means constantly asking people to put themselves at great risk - and that is a lot to ask.

But the bottom line for me is that stories do not come to you or fall out of the sky. They come through hard work, getting out there and seeing for yourself. If you are not there when something happens, it's much harder to report on it. Obviously you can't be everywhere, but meeting people, seeing what the true situation is on the streets - how dramatically it differs form one part of Baghdad to the next - all of that is how you come across ways to break through the fatigue and tell stories that count.

Find the people who have something to say. Discover something new. Weave together different pieces that you collect from conversations over weeks or months and use your knowledge and experience and contacts to make that meaningful to an audience thousands of miles away that may be tired after a long, hard day themselves and needs a reason to care about your story.

All I can add to that is my own passion and commitment. And hope that some of that comes through.

Red or blue, surge supporters or withdrawal advocates -- it's critical we all recognize that Iraq reporters are risking everything by entering a war zone to inform us. And now they've been tasked with keeping us interested as well.
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