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Posts Tagged ‘Dart Center’

What years of reporting violence does to journalists

In aging, behavior, blogging, books, business, Crime, film, journalism, life, Media, news, photography, television, the military, travel, war, women, work on August 28, 2013 at 12:11 am

By Caitlin Kelly

News journalism, no matter your gender, is a tough and macho business.

Showing weakness, fear or timidity is a career-killer and those who wade into the gore and muck and terror often win the best jobs, assignments and book contracts — no matter what the emotional toll.

English: Logo of NPR News.

English: Logo of NPR News. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of you may listen to Kelly McEvers, the MidEast correspondent for National Public Radio.

She recently did a documentary about her experience of trauma as a result of her work, a rare and brave admission of its effects.

Here’s a bit of a Q and A with Kelly:

LO: I didn’t know that NPR had a therapist on retainer. At what point, do you know that there’s a therapist if you need one? Is it part of a basic benefits package for conflict journalists? 

KM: A colleague recommended Mark Brayne. Mark is very involved with the Dart Center. He’s part of a group of people who really advocate for this kind of thing at news organizations. I don’t really know if it’s part of NPR’s orientation or benefits package because back when I joined the company things were different than they are now.

At work, therapy was always this kind of thing that you wanted to do in complete confidentiality because you never want to be seen as weak at a news organization. I’ve tried to make it something that we talk about a little bit more—not who goes to see whom or when they go—but that it’s available and we should all consider using it when we need it.

Dr. Anthony Feinstein, who I interviewed, talked about this a bit. Newsrooms are insanely competitive places. You don’t want anyone to sniff weakness because then they’ll come for your job. Doing this piece was a big risk and that’s definitely one of the reasons.

The other thing is when you cover these horrible situations, you feel like a schmuck saying “poor me,” when the people around you have it so much worse than you, where there’s hundreds of thousands of refugees and people are dying violent deaths every day. That’s something you have to get over. Feinstein talks about this with his clients. He asks, “If you have a broken leg, but the guy next to you has broken leg, should you not fix your broken leg?” The truth is, we have to be well enough to tell people’s stories. And if you’re not well in the head, you’re not going to be able to do it. We have to stop feeling guilty about talking about our problems.

Reporting on the larger world often begins with local reporting on cops and courts, where most journalists have never been before. Drug abuse, murder, sexual assault, rape — we cover it, talk to survivors of it, photograph it, write about it or broadcast its images. We may sit for days or weeks or months in a courtroom, listening to horrific details.

In the 1980s, while working at The Globe and Mail, I was sent into a Toronto courtroom to cover for the justice reporter for a few days. It might only have been a day, but every detail is as fresh to me as it was then. They wheeled in the blood-streaked freezer into which the accused shoved his victim, minus his limbs.

We called it, with typical black humor, the roast beef murder.

Then there were the parents who had pimped their own children to a circle of their friends.

Stupidly, I’d had no idea what nightmares swirled around us.

While working, briefly, for the Canadian Press, my Sunday evening shift included writing up every fatality that occurred in the province of Ontario that weekend: car crashes, drownings, you name it. I started to dread my job and its perky nickname “Fats”.

One evening I asked a fellow reporter, a woman whose husband was a cop, if this ever bothered her, all those dead bodies and grieving families. “It’s just numbers,” said Judy.

Asshole.

Those who cover war see and smell dead bodies. They learn to distinguish the specific deep thudding of a Blackhawk helicopter or the sound of an incoming mortar, to survive the choking stink of tear gas and strap on their Kevlar vest before starting their day.

UH-60L Blackhawk helicopter flies a low-level ...

UH-60L Blackhawk helicopter flies a low-level mission over Iraq (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Friends of mine have covered war, famine, rape, the aftermath of floods and hurricanes.

One, a colleague more than a personal friend, war reporter Michael Hastings, only 33, died in a fiery crash in L.A. recently, to the shock and dismay of the journalism community.

But this long L.A. Weekly story suggests he was fighting plenty of his own demons:

Interviews with friends as well as the coroner’s report suggest that Hastings’ mental health was deteriorating. As a young man, he’d abused drugs and alcohol and received a possible diagnosis of manic depression. Now, after a long period of sobriety, he had recently begun smoking pot to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder — the product of years of covering combat.

My husband covered the worst prison riot in U.S. history, photographing the dead while he was still a college student.

Another friend wrote a terrific book about MRSA, the flesh-eating bacteria. She, too, was traumatized by what she heard and saw.

Those covering the mayhem in Egypt and Syria are staring into the abyss every day.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus 10048

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus 10048 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To write my first book, about American women and guns, I spoke to 104 men, women and teens about firearms in their lives, including women who had been shot, who had shot and killed, whose children and husbands had been killed or committed suicide.

I had a few weeks of insomnia and nightmares, and only a friend working in the prison system recognized it as secondary trauma.

I knew things were getting a little nuts when one of my sources, who had been shot point-blank in her home then pursued and shot her assailant, sent me a photo of his body lying in her front yard, and I asked Jose to preview it for me to see if I could handle it.

“It’s fine,” he said. “It’s just a dead guy in the mud.”

This is not a healthy reaction.

Last week, at a journalism conference, I met a tall, thin, beautiful television anchor who is hungry to do something different. “I’ve seen too much,” she told me. “Bodies without heads…all the things we see, but viewers do not.”

journalists_guide_to_firearms_ak47_glock1

journalists_guide_to_firearms_ak47_glock1 (Photo credit: gnotalex)

This is what consumers of media rarely know or remember — that before you hear it on the radio or see it on the television news or read about it on-line or in print, people have first listened to and watched visions of pure hell.

The final product is, no matter how horrific to you, sanitized and scrutinized, argued over ferociously in news meetings as to whether it’s legal, ethical or moral to show you all of it. If so, how much?

Here’s help, in the Dart Center, whose mission it is to help us process the detritus of covering some of the toughest — and most important — stories. Here’s a blog post I wrote for them, back in 2004, about women and violence.

Do you encounter physical or emotional violence in the course of your paid or volunteer work?

How do you process it or recover from it?

Honoring brave journalists with the annual Dart Center Awards

In behavior, blogging, books, business, Crime, culture, education, film, Health, journalism, Media, news, photography, science, sports, the military on May 3, 2012 at 12:22 am
journalists_guide_to_firearms_ak47_glock1

journalists_guide_to_firearms_ak47_glock1 (Photo credit: gnotalex)

It’s a fact easily overlooked — the news we read and hear and watch is brought to us by human beings with hearts.

Some of the stories they gather, and some of the very best in my view, are the ones we skip over because they’re dark, disturbing and deeply painful.

Journalists who gather this material often end up suffering from a condition known as “secondary trauma” which can cause insomnia, nightmares, anxiety and depression. It’s a form of PTSD, which soldiers experience after the violence and brutality of war. I experienced it myself after writing my first book about American women and guns, after steeping myself in reports and interviews of violence, suicide and homicide for months.

A female friend who returned from Haiti after reporting there for weeks began telling her Facebook friends she couldn’t sleep, night after night. I suggested her insomnia was quite likely the result of secondary trauma. Another female friend wrote a searing book about MRSA, the flesh-eating infection, and she too experienced the aftereffects of recounting terrible stories, receiving a Dart Center fellowship to deal with it.

Most journalists aren’t trained in any way to know that this even exists. They work in, or return to, newsrooms filled with colleagues who have no experience or understanding of the horrors they may have seen, smelled, heard or survived, and few bosses with training to recognize or handle it either.

The very compassion and empathy that leads journalists into this tough work can also leave them shattered by it.

The Dart Center is an American non-profit organization whose focus is helping journalists prepare for, and recover from, reporting stories of this nature. I admire them and the men and women who do this work.

A panel discussion is being held tonight from 6 to 8pm at the Columbia School of Journalism in New York City honoring this year’s winners.

From the Dart Center website:

The New York Times received the Dart Award for “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer.” (John Branch, reporter; Marcus Yam, photographer; Shayla Harris, videojournalist; Josh Williams, multimedia producer.) This searing three-part investigative series tells the story of Derek Boogaard, one of the N.H.L.’s most feared “enforcers,” who died with massive brain injuries at age 28. The series reveals the consequences – physical, psychological and social – of the adulation of violence surrounding the sport.

Judges called “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer” a “groundbreaking” and “exemplary piece of accountability journalism.” They praised Branch for his “masterful storytelling” and “tender objectivity,” and for focusing on “human beings, science and anguish instead of thrill, agony and defeat.” They commended the series for “taking on the sports page” and “drawing attention to sanctioned violence of fans.” Judges also recognized the far-reaching, and wide-ranging impact of the series that has made it nearly impossible for those most vested in hockey to turn a blind eye to its cruel reality and disastrous impact.

WNYC received the Dart Award for “Living 9/11,” which was presented by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange (Marianne McCune, reporter and producer; Emily Botein, producer; Karen Frillman, editor; Fred Mogul and Beth Fertig, reporters; Eric Leinung, Jillian Suarez, Erin Reeg, Norhan Basuni, Radio Rookies; Courtney Stein, Sanda Htyte, Radio Rookies producers; Kaari Pitkin, Radio Rookies senior producer; Chris Bannon, executive producer; Andy Lanset, original 9/11 recordings; John Ellis, composer; Paul Schneider and Jim Briggs III, mix engineers.) This hour-long documentary guides listeners through the stories of people who were deeply affected by the September 11, 2001 attacks and who are still struggling to make sense of the events.  The documentary is built around a diverse range of viewpoints, capturing visceral and immediate emotional reactions to the attacks while also illuminating universal truths about 9/11’s lasting impact.

Judges called “Living 9/11” “insightful,” “hard-hitting” and “deeply sensitive,” going far beyond more conventional anniversary programs in its integration of history, science and narrative.

'It's worse than AIDS': Interview with 'Superbug' author Maryn McKenna

In Health, Media, Medicine on March 23, 2010 at 8:25 am
Rob looks like a doctor...

Make sure he's washed his hands!Image by juhansonin via Flickr

It’s extremely rare that I start a book, certainly non-fiction, never about science, and can’t put it down because it reads like a thriller. Maryn’s book, “Superbug”, published today, is an astonishing read — I gulped it down in one sitting.

It’s not an easy read but it’s essential: terrifying, sad, powerful, persuasive.

She’ll be interviewed today by Terry Gross on her NPR program, “Fresh Air”, every writer’s dream. I spoke to Maryn, a friend and colleague and fellow member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, about it:

Tell us a little about yourself. Why journalism? Why science and/or medical journalism?

I was born in Brooklyn, NY; raised in England where my father was working on an engineering project; high school in Texas, college in Washington, DC. At Georgetown I took an English honors degree in 16th-c theatre and 20th-c poetry, which meant I was very well educated and completely unfit for the job market.

I looked around for a graduate program that would be quick but give me a credential to make me marketable, and went to Northwestern to study journalism. After I got my degree I started the painstaking climb up the ladder of newspaper circulation. My first job was in finance journalism, but after the market crash of 1987 I was a bit burned out, and my paper offered me an open job covering science and medicine and the environment, and it was a good fit.

A bit of career history: where you worked and why you chose those places.

I had internships at the American Banker and as Washington correspondent for the Oak Ridger of Oak Ridge (TN), home of the Manhattan Project. Full-time jobs at the Rockford (IL) Register-Star (3 years), Cincinnati Enquirer (2 years), Boston Herald (5 years) and Atlanta Journal-Constitution (10 years). For the first half of my newspaper years, I was mostly an investigative reporter focusing on public health, and for the second half, I was the only U.S. reporter assigned to full-time coverage of the CDC (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

I left my last newspaper job in mid-2006 when it became clear opportunities were contracting — I kept hearing, “We don’t see you doing any projects for us” — and went freelance.

When and where did this idea for a book come to you?

About a month before I left my last job, I had the incredible good fortune to meet Sara Austin, news and health features director of Self magazine, at a conference. My first story for her, published in Feb 2007, was the genesis for “Superbug”. I’ve since done two other major features for her and am lined up to do several more. I’ve also written for Health, More, Heart-Healthy Living, and am a regular contributor to the Annals of Emergency Medicine. My first stories as a freelancer were for Susan Percy at Georgia Trend, for which I will always be grateful.

That first story for Self was on the unappreciated threat that community-strain MRSA posed to women and children — because, even in 2007, people were still talking about MRSA in the context of prisoners and athletes, groups that were mostly male. The story was published; it was picked up by the TODAY show and by Montel, which suggested it had broad demographic appeal; and my in-box exploded with notes from dozens of women and some men wanting to tell me how MRSA had changed their lives. It was clear there was a larger story there.

Where and how did you find your agent?

I’ve heard other authors describe how difficult it can be to find an agent, and every time it makes me realize how fortunate I’ve been. In the summer of 1998, I was taking a year off from my newspaper job to do a year-long fellowship at the University of Michigan, in the Knight-Wallace program (which is amazing and refreshing; I can’t recommend it enough).

A colleague, Gary Pomerantz, had been to the same program shortly before, and had come out with a book. I wanted to do a book too, and he introduced me to his agent, David Black of the David Black Literary Agency, who pointed me toward Susan Raihofer there. The book I had in mind didn’t come together, and so for the first three years of our acquaintance I didn’t have anything for her to agent.

But during the 2001 anthrax-letter attacks, I embedded with a CDC investigative team working on Capitol Hill, and that gave me the idea for my first book, BEATING BACK THE DEVIL, a narrative and history of the CDC’s “disease detectives,” the Epidemic Intelligence Service. We sold that in 2002 and it came out in 2004.

Describe selling the book.

It went very quickly. I did a 20-page proposal in about a week, and then reworked it with Susan’s guidance over a very long weekend. She sent it out to a selected group. There were some expressions of interest and then couple of bids, but the high bidder was Free Press, [an imprint of Simon and Schuster] who had published my first book. From start to sale, it was very quick, probably less than a month.

How long did it take you, start to finish?

It depends on when you start counting! Three years from the time the contract was signed; 3.5 from when I started work on that Self story, a tiny portion of which appears in the book. But I first got interested in MRSA during research for my first book in 2003, when I shadowed CDC disease detectives in Los Angeles through an investigation of MRSA infections monitoring gay men who visited sex clubs.

So it may have been gestating for twice as long as I thought.

You name so many people in your acknowledgments — tell us about building so wide a set of sources and why that mattered to you — and to other ambitious writers tackling complicated topics.

The horror of doing a book like this is that, to make the problem real to an average reader, you have to find victims who are like average readers themselves. The benefit of doing a project like this now is that, thanks to social media, you can tap networks much more reliably and reach further than I think you ever could before. I was offered a lot of contacts thanks to that Self story, and to one I did for Health magazine a year later — but still, I worked my networks relentlessly. For every victim in the book, I probably have 10 others whose stories were moving, but not exactly what I wanted.

Overall, between victims and scientists, I did about 200 interviews.

Tell us about the Dart and Kaiser fellowships and how they helped you.

I’m a big believer in fellowships, which I think are the best way — maybe the only way, in the current environment — for journalists to study up on any particular topic. I got a Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation fellowship for “bridge funding” when I left newspapers; the idea was to spend a year of overnight shifts in ERs to see what the overcrowding was like. I thought I would do a book on ERs but saw so much MRSA that it fueled “Superbug” instead.

Then in 2009, I went after a fellowship with the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, at Columbia, because I had collected so many stories of awful things happening to people as a result of MRSA that I realized I needed some help in processing them. I wanted to find a way to tell them that preserved the victim’s dignity and autonomy and wasn’t just disease-porn.

The Dart fellowships are a week-long immersion in both learning about the effects of trauma, and being helped through whatever processing you need to do for any traumatic events you have witnessed as a journalist. After 20 years as Scary Disease Girl, I had seen a lot of trauma, and the fellowship helped me get some distance on those events.

What did you enjoy most about writing the book?

I think people whose work has been newspaper or long-form magazine stories, but who haven’t written a book, tend to think, “Ooooh, a book, that will give me all the space I ever wanted to tell a story.” Well, no. You are still, always, making decisions about what to leave out. This book is about 85,000 words, but it could have been twice as long, and deciding what to cut was very painful — because I’m extremely detail-oriented and like to describe the smallest granular aspects of events. At the same time, I loved having that length in which to tell a braided, complex narrative.

The thing that was most challenging, though, was how time-consuming it was. I worked, without exaggeration, 12 hours most days, 6 days most weeks, for 3 years. I felt that this was a story that needed to be out soon, and that I couldn’t take the time to explore it over 5 years or more — someone else would beat me to some part of it. And to tell it with credibility, I needed to be immersed in the subject. But I made a lot of personal sacrifices to do it.

Are you now scared of doctors or hospitals? How — seriously — do you think most of us will ever challenge a doctor (if we are scared of MRSA) when we are scared or in pain or facing surgery? How scared should we be?

It is not my intention to make people paranoid, really. I don’t want to frighten people away from hospitals. But I do hold hospitals responsible for not doing better, and because they do not, I do think we have to defend ourselves.

What that means is doing due diligence before going into the hospital — if you are in a state where there is a mandatory-reporting law for hospital infections or MRSA, look up the institution’s metrics. And when you are in the hospital, try to find the courage to ask health care workers if they have washed their hands. It’s an easy thing to recommend, a very difficult thing to do, because it challenges the power differential in the relationship between health care worker and patient. But I think it’s necessary.

Next book? current projects?

One of my favorite parts of the book is tracing the detective story of the “third epidemic” of MRSA in food animals, It got me thinking about how complex and multi-national our food system is now. So I think my next project will turn in that direction, probably toward the difficulty of making food safe.

Is Afghanistan Winnable? Two Veteran Foreign Correspondents Weigh In

In Media, politics, world on October 8, 2009 at 10:10 am
Soviet war in Afghanistan

Image via Wikipedia

Christina Lamb, a 43-year-old veteran correspondent who last month became the U.S., D.C.-based correspondent, for the Sunday Times of London, is finally getting to know some of the American officials making policy in Afghanistan, a country she knows well, having covered it for years. “When were you last there?”, she asked one. “Oh, I’ve never been there,” he replied.

Lamb, who has worked as a journalist in Pakistan and was the West’s first correspondent to cover the rise of the Taliban, joined fellow veteran correspondent David Loyn, Developing World Correspondent, at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism last night to discuss what they’ve seen, and covered, in Afghanistan. Between them, they offered more than 30 years’ experience in the region.

The event attracted a crowd of about 100, including professors, fellow journalists, a New York Times and Time freelance photographer who has worked in Afghanistan, a UNICEF worker and SIPA and Columbia J-students.

Loyn, who was last in-country two weeks ago, compared Afghanistan to Moscow in 1987: “They have the same set of options in a country long known as the graveyard of empire. This is a country in which war aims always end up altered.” He reiterated what a hostile terrain soldiers, and journalists, face there: ” a country of deserts and mountains, only five percent irrigable and arable. The mountains are 400 miles long and 200 miles wide, with only three passes. It’s natural guerilla territory.” Anyone hoping for good news in Afghanistan faces what he called “the two F’s — frontier and fundamentalism. What the U.S. forgot is that these were people who did not share American values.”

Loyn feels the war is “still absolutely winnable” although “defeat and victory are starting to look similar.” American aid “has been wasted, however noble.” He derided the creation of an “aid juggernaut” that enriches aid workers while leaving Afghans weak, unemployed and disorganized. “Not only is that aid ineffective, it’s destructive. There’s been great progress in primary education for girls — but what about secondary education? What about employment for men?” The challenges are daunting: 60 percent of police in Helmand province are addicted to heroin; 90 percent of police are illiterate and 1.5 million Afghans gave fled to Pakistan, the journalists said. Police corruption is so endemic, Loyn said, that a new form of banking — using mobile phones — is being tested, now used by 53 policemen, whereby any family member can access the funds using their cellphone.

Loyn deplored the recent firing of Peter Galbraith, the top American official at the U.N. mission in Kabul, who denounced election fraud. “His firing sends all the wrong signals. (Here’s an excerpt from Galbraith’s letter. Interviewed today on BBC World News, Galbraith said he strongly favors the idea of a run-off election. “That would be an extremely good thing.”) Loyn reminded the audience, as did Galbraith today, of one of the many issues in the disputed election, “ghost polling stations” — which reported results even though they never even opened.

Lamb thinks that adding more troops is no longer the answer. “I used to argue passionately, everywhere, that we should send more troops, until September 2008 when I went back. The situation had got much, much worse. I could now travel to many fewer places. Even traveling 90 minutes outside Kabul has become too dangerous. Sending 20,000 or 40,000 more troops will just cause more casualties.”

The war, she said, “is not winnable. We’ve lost the consent of the Afghan people and it’s almost impossible to get back.” Western troops have also lost Afghans’ confidence through repeated, grave cultural faux pas — from male soldiers entering women’s quarters, sending dogs (considered unclean) into homes, even firing upon Afghan wedding parties where firing into the air is a joyful, honored tradition — souring goodwill toward foreign troops, Lamb said. “It’s normal at a wedding to fire gunshots, but people were killed by soldiers in retaliation.” There’s little chance of forgiveness for such errors, she said. “In Afghanistan, revenge is a very important part of life.”

She described visiting a town in Helmand province heavily guarded by 9,000 British soldiers and 11,000 Americans. “There are no people there! They’ve all fled. The only people left there are Taliban, so there is no one to protect. Why are troops there?”

Loyn disagrees, but thinks 300,000 to 400,000 troops are needed to get the job done. “We’re a long way from an effective force.” Germany and France will be pressured by NATO to add more troops, he said. Lamb thinks Obama will have a tough time arguing for additional forces. “His administration doesn’t have a narrative for sending troops into Afghanistan. The unspoken issue is Pakistan, but it’s easier to focus on Afghanistan when the real situation is over the border,” she said. She was last there in June 2009, in Peshawar, and while she clearly loves the country, admitted, “I was scared.”

The one success story both writers agreed on? The growing strength and work of independent Afghan media. Loyn praised them for “trying to hold their government to account,” especially television reporters. “It’s difficult for women journalsts,” said Lamb. “They’ve had lots of threats. Television has been the biggest success.”

It's J-Day: Former LA Times' Bill Lobdell and Newsweek's Michael Hastings On The Story That Broke Their Hearts

In Media on August 27, 2009 at 8:21 am
This late 1960s photograph shows a seated, lis...

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Any journalist working on emotionally harrowing stories — war, corruption, violence, death, poverty — faces a specific and deeply personal challenge. In order to witness this material, which can be terrifying, confusing and anxiety-provoking to us as well as those we cover, we have to be present, both physically and emotionally. As a result, many of us later suffer PTSD or secondary trauma, the price of admission to these searing stories, as James Rainey wrote recently in The Los Angeles Times. That can bring anxiety, depression, nightmares or insomnia.

A new feature film, The Bang-Bang Club, recently finished shooting in South Africa. The name was given to a group of  young news photographers that included one who still shoots for The New York Times, Joao Silva, and South African photographer Kevin Carter. Carter is best-known, to some of us, as the photographer who captured an image of a tiny, emaciated Sudanese child lying on the ground, a vulture waiting mere feet away. The image won the 1994 Pultizer Prize. Two months later, at 33, Carter committed suicide.

I experienced secondary trauma while writing my own book, during which I spent two years interviewing, and writing about, women and girls. some of whom had experienced gun-related violence, including a woman shot point-blank in her California driveway while her husband was shot and killed beside her during a robbery, women who’d shot and killed, women who’d been shot themselves, women whose husbands and sons had committed suicide. Sometimes this was just exhausting and overwhelming.

The Dart Center is a terrific resource for helping journalists deal with this issue; last week’s J-Day featured medical author Maryn McKenna, whose new book about MRSA required much wearying, important reporting. She’ll be one of their fellows this fall at Columbia University, a sort of post-traumatic de-briefing.

I asked two brave, respected journalists whose work I admire to talk about this difficult issue. I met Bill Lobdell when we both participated in a religion writing fellowship at The Poynter Institute. I was stunned by the story he told us then, which later became his book, and never forgot it. I did not know Michael Hastings before coming to T/S but his raw, passionate candor here is also generous and extraordinary.

William Lobdell, former religion writer for The Los Angeles Times, author of “Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America—and Found Unexpected Peace.”

Michael Hastings, fellow T/S contributor, former Newsweek Baghdad correspondent, whose 2008 book, “I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story,” is about his fiancee’s murder.

Tell us a little about how and why you chose journalism.

Michael: I’ll start with a cliché—from about the age of 12 I knew I wanted to write. (Or join the Marines, win a congressional medal of honor, and run for president.) As a teenager, I discovered guys like Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, and had a serious Beat literature phase. I brilliantly deduced that to be a great writer, you had to ingest great amounts of illegal substances. That didn’t work out so well. I wrote a column at my school paper, called “Fear and Loathing at LCC.” (Lower Canada College, the name of the high school I attended in Montreal.) Then I moved to Burlington, Vermont, where I went to a Catholic school. I was promptly banned from writing for the school newspaper there. The principal was a rather large man named Brother Roger. He didn’t take kindly to an essay where I compared him, perhaps unfavorably, to Jabba the Hutt.

Anyway, after bouncing around at a few colleges, I ended up at New York University. During my last semester, I got an unpaid internship at Newsweek International. I probably was the only one who applied, as the work at first was primarily on Friday and Saturday nights. But I’d been chastened enough by life at that point to realize that I’d managed to get my foot in the door, so to speak, and I wasn’t going take it out. So I more or less lived at the Newsweek offices, and the internship turned to a full time position. I guess I was 22 at the time. I loved it, and I learned how to write an edit there…. I never refused an assignment or anything an editor asked me to do, which helped my cause.. But after about three years, I started asking to be sent to Iraq. By that time, America was already suffering from its first bout of Iraq fatigue—circa 2005. It wasn’t a hot story. Not many people were banging down the door to go. So my bosses finally sent me in August 2005. Six months or so later, the civil war broke out, and all of sudden, Iraq was a really big story again.. I was named the magazine’s Baghdad correspondent a few months after that. That meant I was now going to move to Baghdad permanently

William: I went to Stanford and the University of California, Irvine and majored in political science. As my senior year approached, I still didn’t have a clue what I’d do for a living upon graduation. A mentor gave me some obvious advice that had eluded me: find what you love and get a job in that field. Well, I loved reading newspapers and magazines. I was a news junkie. I thought, maybe I could be a reporter. I went to the college newspaper and the minute I walked into that newsroom, I was hooked.

My career path began traditionally—an internship at the Los Angeles Times and then a job at a small daily in Fullerton. But then it took a turn. I became editor and later president of a local magazine chain. After that seven-year detour, I returned to daily journalism as editor of the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot. I eventually oversaw the LA Times’ community news division before becoming a Times reporter. I spent eight years on the religion beat and two more years as a city editor. I left the paper last year and am running two Internet-based businesses: http://www.newportmesadailyvoice.com and http://www.greersoc.com. I also wrote a critically acclaimed memoir of my experiences on the religion beat called “Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America—and Found Unexpected Peace.”

A little background on this story and how you came to cover it: Read the rest of this entry »

Journalists, (Believe It Or Not), Have Feelings Too, says A New Documentary

In business, Media on July 31, 2009 at 12:41 pm
News Reporter

Image by besfort z via Flickr

Journalists have feelings too. That’s the message of a new 36-minute documentary discussed today in the Los Angeles Times.

The film, “Breaking News, Breaking Down” focuses on the toll that reporting dark or terrifying stories can take on the men and women who gather that material, who pride themselves on doing whatever it takes to get it, toughing it out, and crying, if and when they do, much later and alone.

I’ve lived through this, as have many writers, photographers and cameramen I know. War, 9/11, poverty, crime. Hard stories exact a price. The Dart Center is there to help.

I’ll be blogging about this in an upcoming J-Day.

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