Our editors & readers talk
If youve heard of the old Windmill Theatre in London, its motto during World War Two was We Never Closed. Reuters never closes either. Over the holiday season someone, somewhere will be covering the news for Reuters every second of every day in every region of the world.
For our journalists in Iraq and Afghanistan, it will be work as usual over the next two weeks, with the added stories of American and other foreign troops marking Christmas amid the conflicts. As every year, well have reporters, photographers and camera crews covering Christmas at the Vatican and Midnight Mass in Bethlehem, along with New Years Eve celebrations in Times Square, New York, Sydney Harbour, Trafalgar Square in London and most of the places where crowds gather to see in another year. Many of our financial reporters will also be on duty covering the worlds markets, even though trading volumes will be down.
December 29 sees the start of the haj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca which is expected to draw 1.5 million Muslims from around the world to Saudi Arabia. Past years have witnessed deadly stampedes and political protests and we will have full coverage from a multimedia team.
Staff will also be hard at work in Europe, with Romania and Bulgaria joining the European Union on Jan. 1 and Slovenia adopting the euro as its currency on the same day. In Nairobi, our journalists will all be staying on base because of the conflict in Somalia since we anchor that story from our East Africa operations centre in the Kenyan capital.
How closely can journalists work with combatant forces in a war and still remain independent and impartial? That’s a question dozens of news organisations – including Reuters – have been asking ever since the start of the Iraq War in 2003, when the practice of “embedding” with US and British forces became commonplace.
Just in the last couple of weeks, we made a decision to embed one of our French television crews, Laurent Hamida, with British forces in Afghanistan, and he has agreed to describe his experience and answer your questions about how he goes about his job.
As news editors, one of the most worrying decisions is sending such staff into war zones. While our 500-plus TV customers around the world can decide not to go to a place like Iraq, they expect Reuters Television to be there, and we have been – continuously – since before the war began, with some 30 foreign and local staff in Baghdad and in around a dozen locations around the country. We put our staff through hostile environment vourses, provide them with safety equipment, and all those who go in are volunteers, but safety concerns remain a constant part of our lives.
Embedding with US and British forces has been a fairly routine way for international news organisations to cover parts of the war and continuing conflict, both for safety reasons, and to get access to areas they might not otherwise be able to get to.
It’s a hot topic in the journalism industry though, with the media constantly debating whether embedding is ethically acceptable, whether journalists compromise themselves by abiding by military restrictions, and whether the military has used the embedding programme to manipulate news coverage.
Thanks to everyone for their interest in the work of the Reuters newsroom in Kabul. Here are some answers to the questions readers asked.
Answers from photographer Ahmad Masood
To Canon Fodder, who asks for some tricks of the trade in going from amateur to professional photographer:
Earlier on Tuesday, the following note was sent to staff throughout Reuters. I thought readers might also be interested in our style on so important an issue.
“Last week, a decision by the American TV network NBC to begin calling the conflict in Iraq a civil war led to a lively debate over the language the media should use in its reporting on Iraq. At Reuters, the political and general news editors have again reviewed our style. We ask all journalists to avoid using labels and instead describe what is happening in Iraq accurately, fairly and dispassionately. Civil war may be used when it is attributed to a named source but should not be used without such attribution. In general, bureaus should take their cue from the language used in stories from Iraq.
Whether or not what is happening in Iraq is civil war is in dispute — among supporters and opponents of U.S. policy in Iraq, among academics and within the general public. Some argue that the conflict in Iraq is not yet a civil war, others that it has already gone beyond civil war. It is a complex conflict, with elements of an insurgency, terrorism, sectarian conflict, intra-confessional fighting, banditry and warlordism. We will not assist readers in their understanding of what is happening by resorting to easy labels or by decreeing that specific boilerplate background needs to be included in every story.
The term civil war has also become an emotive phrase and a highly charged political issue in the context of Iraq. Reuters policy has long been to avoid using contentious labels and to take special care in the interests of objectivity in the case of words with emotional significance. It is also our policy not to take sides in any conflict or dispute. We should be mindful of these principles when writing about Iraq and describing events there. The use of language in our reporting about Iraq will remain under review and will be subject to change as the situation changes. Your comments are welcome.”
Paul Holmes is the Political & General News Editor at Reuters
Who can forget the deadly tsunami of December 2004, the London bombings of July 2005, the fury and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Gulf Coast in August and September, 2005?
In all those events, some of the most compelling images were taken by amateur photographers and videographers. The same can be said for some events this year, including the arrest outside a New York nightclub of Curtis Jackson, better known in the rap world as 50 Cent, and the crash of a small plane piloted by New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle into a Manhattan apartment building.
I have been visiting the Kabul bureau this week and reflecting on how things have changed since I reported from Kabul in the heady days after the flight of the Taliban in November, 2001.
The Reuters office is a house in a relatively upscale neighborhood of Kabul with bedrooms where foreign journalists sleep during their stay. When I first stepped through the front gates of the compound five years ago I entered a world of controlled chaos.
We’re planning to extend the subjects covered by our related blogs feature and to extend the number of blogs from Reuters staff. I’m eager to hear your views on both this new feature and any other ideas on the kind of blogging you’d like to see on Reuters.com.
Dean Wright is managing editor for consumer services at Reuters
The finely balanced mid-terms have encouraged a wave of citizen journalism projects that are nicely summarized in a newassignment.net posting (full disclosure: Reuters is a newassignment sponsor).
Among the more eye-catching are: Video the Vote, a project to record evidence of problems outside polling stations, Congresspedia providing user-generated profiles of the challengers most likely to make it, and the Polling Place Photo Project capturing images of election day.
Some disasters get a lot of headlines; others get little attention. Sometimes its easy to guess why one story or another grabbed world attention; other times it is much harder to understand. Reuters AlertNet, the humanitarian news portal run by Reuters Foundation, has a World Press Tracker that follows how a sampling of the worlds press covers disasters and emergencies.
I am now into my final few days visiting our news operation in Baghdad and wanted to answer readers questions before I leave. Ive grouped my responses into topics. Weve translated the reader feedback into Arabic for those Iraqi colleagues whose English is basic. They will be heartened by the many expressions of support for their work.
Q. 11 handicap wanted to know what it takes to ensure physical and emotional wellbeing in a war zone like Iraq. k.taylor asked how the families of our Iraqi journalists cope with the constant worry of whether they are safe.