Iraq Demands a Different Sort of Reporting Iraqi journalists can't carry anything — not even a notebook — that would let people know they are working for Western media. This is only one of the obstacles that journalists face covering the Iraq war, according to a new report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
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Iraq Demands a Different Sort of Reporting

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Iraq Demands a Different Sort of Reporting

Iraq Demands a Different Sort of Reporting

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Madeleine Brand.

In a few minutes, a list you do not want to be on - a Who's Who in the world of terrorism.

COHEN: But first, many veteran war correspondents find Iraq the most dangerous place they've ever worked. And those dangers influence the way the war is being reported. That's according to a new study from the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay was one the journalists who participated in this survey, and she joins us now from the Baghdad bureau.

Jamie, more than half of the reporters who responded said a member of their local staff had been kidnapped or killed. How dangerous is it there in Iraq now, and how is that danger affecting your reporting?

JAMIE TARABAY: It's definitely dangerous to be a journalist in Iraq, whether you're a local or a foreign reporter. And there are dangers that come with being an Iraqi reporter and being a foreign reporter. Iraqis - Iraqi journalists, they're my heroes. It's so much harder for them to do what they do, run around and go through all of the security issues that we go through, and then go home to their families.

COHEN: And these Iraqi journalists, many of them said in this survey that they can't carry anything - not even a notebook that would let people know that they're affiliated with Western media. They could be killed for doing so. So how do you actually get accurate information and what do you do with the information that they bring back?

TARABAY: I think when they answered that question it was more about commuting to and from work. Our staff carry microphones, but they carry very little ones, which don't appear too obvious to people that they see in the street. And they also kind of - they go into a situation, they walk into a coffee shop or a clothing store, restaurant, and they, you know, they suss out the store and the atmosphere, and they try and figure out if this is a friendly environment, if they can produce a microphone, and then talk to people.

COHEN: But you as a reporter, you can't actually go out and do this yourself, right?

TARABAY: I go out, but I don't go out as often as they do. Usually, I mean this is the hard thing, and this is something that everybody has to deal with, you know, whenever our staff has come back and said something about a story that they've been interested in, or if it's a suburb or a neighborhood that we really want to go to, you know, we ask them, is it safe? So when I do go out it's usually a place that, you know, they've gone to already. And when I do go out, it's very quick.

And that's the thing that, you know, the reporting suffers in that aspect, because I can't go there and sit for an hour, two hours, three hours at a time and get a real sense of the person or the situation. That's something that I really on them to do. But as long as I get to go out there and see it, or the person that we're talking about gets to come to meet me somewhere neutral, I feel like I can still do my reporting.

COHEN: So how accurate do you think the news is, considering how limited reporters like you are in their access sometimes?

TARABAY: Well, I think that that's the real test of whether the security situation is improving or not. I mean, it's not improving when flak-jacketed, you know, senators take strolls through markets. It's improving when a Westerner can walk into a coffee shop and sit down and have a coffee in full view of Iraqis, who on any other day might have decided to call their insurgent friends and have you picked up and taken away. I mean, I think that, you know, the fact that we still have a lot of apprehension about going out is a test of the security situation.

And more than just what we say, our Iraqi staff as well are a real, you know, barometer for those things as well. And you know, I think one of the things that people pointed out about what they felt was under-covered was contact with insurgents. You know, I covered the Palestinian intifada for three years, and you could run with the militia, you could hang out with, you know, Hamas, and I did that all the time, especially after, you know, suicide bombings went off in Israel; you'd go to Hamas people in Gaza and you were able to talk to them. You had so much access.

Here you can't do that. You can't hang out with insurgents. You can't go trawling with the Madhi Army and see was they do because it's too dangerous. And that's part of the frustration of not getting the full picture here as far as I'm concerned, because you want to be able to talk about the motivations of the people who are setting off attacks and shooting at soldiers and kidnapping civilians.

COHEN: What's your sense of what the future looks like, and what could improve the situation so that you'd be able to do, you know, more of the reporting you'd like to do?

TARABAY: I think that things really depend on the politics of the situation now. I think everybody is just kind of holding a collective breath to see what happens once the American troops do pull out.

COHEN: NPR's Jamie Tarabay, one of the reporters who responded to a survey by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Thanks, Jamie.

TARABAY: You're welcome.

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