International Reporting and the Brave New World of New Journalism

Nov 18, 2011

Veteran journalist Barbara Crossette discusses how international reporting has changed dramatically over the last few decades: new dangers, new competitors, and new ethical and professional challenges.


ZORNITSA STOYANOVA: Good evening and welcome to tonight's event in the Carnegie New Leaders Program. My name is Zornitsa Stoyanova. I am the managing editor of the Council's journal, Ethics & International Affairs.

I am very pleased tonight to welcome Barbara Crossette, our speaker. She is a longtime trustee and a true friend and supporter of our organization.

Our topic today is "International Reporting and the Brave New World of New Journalism." We are very lucky to have Barbara here to talk about it, because she brings a wealth of personal experience and knowledge to the topic.

She is the United Nations correspondent of The Nation. She was The New York Times Chief of Bureau at the UN. Prior to that, she was The Times' chief correspondent in South East Asia and South Asia.

She is also the author of So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas and the Great Hill Stations of Asia. Her most recent work is authoring the recently issued UN Population Fund Report, about which she will actually talk tomorrow here at the Council. [For transcript, click here.]


BARBARA CROSSETTE: I'll say that journalists don't usually make speeches, except the ones who get paid a lot to do it. So I will try to make this as informal as possible. You can not only ask questions at the end, because they are always more interesting than what I say, you can also interrupt me if you want and have me talk about something. I can only go over very briefly an awful lot of information.

I was going to start, and I will, by saying it's a privilege and a pleasure to talk to young people who are going to be among the leaders of this messy century, as it is turning out to be, because I have just written this report for the UN, in which I included profiles of some of your counterparts—not all seven billion of them, or however many there are, three billion—around the world.

Youth now make up the largest sector of the global population. So you are a force for change in every part of life.

I met all sorts of interesting young people doing extremely constructive things in their countries. And because young people are often the best at working in cyberspace and communicating with one another, they are making a big difference. They are creating networks their older generations never had and sharing a lot of ideas.

However, we are here to talk about the media with an emphasis on new journalism.

A little history, if you don't mind, is not out of order here to understand the context of what has happened.

The last half of the 20th century was evolutionary in many ways for journalists. Warfare had changed dramatically. Most deaths are now civilians. You hear the figure that something like 95 percent of the deaths in World War I were combatants. By the end of the century a huge percentage were civilians, and the actual troops in combat were suffering fewer casualties.

The other thing that happened in this century, particularly in the 1990s, is that journalists and humanitarian workers became increasingly targeted. People from the UN who are here will know this. Just this week, I think, three people from UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] were killed.

Technology has evolved rapidly, as you know, changing in a few decades how journalists work and how they struggle to stay ahead of the blogosphere in many areas and ahead of the competition, because everybody now has the tools to be spot-on on the news and to offer different perspectives.

But old ethical questions surround us and pop up unexpectedly, and they also evolve. Some of the questions involve relations with governments or their opponents—rebels, militants, armed or not. Others surround how interview subjects are treated, or how professional and personal standards of behavior arise and are dealt with.

There is no time to include everything, as I said. So here are just a few ideas.

I will start with the physical environment in which journalists work internationally, in particular, and, if you will forgive me, to introduce a personal reflection, I have been in the profession for almost 40 years, and so I have seen a lot of the evolution.

In the 1980s, when I was sent to Central America on assignments from time to time, it was possible to meet with government officials in the morning and rebel leaders on the same day. Some of you understand this, right? Both needed the media in their own ways. So we could put a sign on our car that said "Prensa" (Press) and roam into a civil war feeling relatively safe. We had T-shirts that said "Periodista—No dispare" (Journalists—Don't shoot).

So fast-forward to 2002. Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal was on his way, he thought, to meet the leader of a militant Islamic organization in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi. Four weeks later he was dead, kidnapped, and beheaded, in an act the Journal rightly called "barbaric." He was 38 years old.

It was hard to find at that time a journalist of my generation who did not think, "How often did I agree to meet someone underground to get an exclusive story?" It was a chilling moment and a terrible lesson.

Militants no longer need the media to tell their stories. They have the Internet.

Militants in some movements—not all of them Islamic—also may see the media and humanitarian aid workers as the enemy, part of a cultural world they want to destroy. They often don't want assistance and don't want their people to be in contact with outsiders. They don't want the seamless message of their militancy disrupted.

This was the case with the Tamil Tigers. If anybody is interested afterwards, I spent a lot of time in Sri Lanka. This was a very dangerous group who were totalitarian and completely self-absorbed but who were good at propaganda.

Look at television coverage of Libya's revolution in recent months. I was struck by how often I saw fighters—in baseball caps, armed with machine guns, riding in pickup trucks—with virtually no personal protection. You have all seen these pictures.

At the side are reporters wearing flak jackets, protective headgear. It is just a complete inversion, really, of the reality. The reporter may have been through extensive and expensive safety and survival training courses and will be wearing hundreds of dollars of protective clothing, maybe thousands of dollars now.

In just the last two years, just as a sidelight, I have been put through two UN security and safety courses—not to cover a war, but just to go to places where there had been one and to report on ordinary people in areas that are under some sort of stress and often extreme poverty or extreme violence.

These courses are quite good, by the way. I learned all kinds of useful things, like how to put up a little tower to make your cell phone work and all that, and what kind of bars you need on your windows.

Anyway, it is different, and it is as different for those of you from the UN as it is for reporters.

And by the way, I found the UN was often the most useful—I don't want to say contact or source in a sense that makes it sound like it was devious—but the most useful partner, often, because the UN—World Food Program, particularly, and UNHCR—could take you to places that you couldn't go alone. The UN had a plane, the expertise, and people who spoke the local language—all of those things.

People used to say to me, "How did you manage to work in these places?" Very often, I had a lot of good friends in the UN agencies, starting back with Cambodia and Vietnam.

It's a growth industry now, protecting journalists abroad. A lot of information is available. It also applies to business. I think a lot of organizations have training in this kind of thing.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has a website that has a link, as I remember, to a large number of places, institutions, or companies—or whatever you need to know—to find out how to get this kind of training.

Also there is now post-traumatic counseling for journalists, which is a relatively new thing. I didn't even know it existed until I was in India with Rajiv Gandhi when he was killed. When I came back, they said, "Do you need counseling?" I thought, What is this? This is a different world. I just traded that for a couple of months off so I could write a book about India.

The idea is that now there is much more consideration of everybody who is involved in these places, not just troops, but all of the civilian people.

I've alluded to the changes in technology and warfare that have changed journalism in the age of al-Qaeda. International criminal organizations also make use of high technology in their networks, in forming their networks and also to track and kill reporters, and to torture and sometimes kill the people they are trafficking. These days you will hear from the UN and others that trafficking of people now rivals or has surpassed trafficking in narcotics.

In Ethiopia, I met a young man who was saving up to go to South Africa. From South Africa he could fly to Mexico, and from Mexico he was promised to be trafficked into the United States. This is extremely risky, and most people don't make it. In Mexico they told me that on the border with Central America, where a lot of people are dumped who don't get to Mexico City, the gangs are waiting for them.

Now, technology has its positive sides. For reporters from the media organizations working in the United States or abroad, these are evident.

Computers have been around, I think, longer than most people realize. Journalism had computers really quite early on. Nobody here is old enough to remember the computer "bubble." I do. I had it taken from me time and again in Central America. They would say, "Tiene una memoria," and that was it—"It has a memory." We want it because you can't use this thing.

When they took it away from me once in Guatemala, I had a little message left in my room saying, "Your bubble is wait at airport." Somebody had thought better of confiscating it and put it out for me when I left the country.

It was always dialing up then. If you could imagine doing work in very difficult places and having to dial up when you had a computer. Mostly before that it was telexing and other things.

I was once with Fred Conrad, a famous photographer from The New York Times, in Phnom Penh when it was more or less under Vietnamese occupation after the Khmer Rouge had been driven out. We were in a fly-specked, fly-ridden place trying to work a telex machine. He was trying the impossible, to send photographs to New York.

He looked at me. He had a stricken look on his face. I thought it had to do with his camera. He said, "Do you know what day it is? It's Thanksgiving, and I miss my wife." So that was the kind of life it was.

Now you can talk to anybody all the time. You're not out of touch with your office, which is bad sometimes, and your family.

Satellite phones came next. I used them in Baghdad in 1998 and in Kabul the same year. In Jalalabad and places like that, if you could get out in the garden of a UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund] you could use them—I was staying in a UNICEF house, where I was safe because I was with Carol Bellamy, and she was coming to talk to the Taliban. They had to deal with a woman because she ran UNICEF, and that's where the education grants came from, and if they didn't like it, you can just kiss the grant good-bye. It was a fun trip.

She's a great feminist, as you know. Kofi Annan later told me he was so terrified of what would happen—or was it Boutros? I don't know—when she got loose with the Taliban. But we were all very well-behaved, and they were terribly well-behaved, and we all had an interesting time.

Anyway, by that time, the technology had of course improved quite a bit. Of course, now small handheld devices have even surpassed all that other stuff.

Anyone who is a reporter is carrying fewer things. In the days of dial-up, we had to carry bags of equipment to take apart telephones—and all kinds of clips and various things—to make them work in places where the telephones were at best unreliable.

Not only reporters use these things, but onlookers and participants and governments are now involved in monitoring foreign affairs with the same tools journalists have.

In Kenya this week, I just read today, the military warned Somalis that they were going to bomb certain Somali towns, and they warned them by Twitter. Now, that assumes two things: all the Kenya military has Twitter; and secondly, that enough people in Somalia have a cell phone or a handheld device that they can receive these Twitter messages.

Quick communication has done a huge amount for the quality of reporting abroad, the Internet in particular. You can Google. If you forget the date at which some king died or another invasion took place, you can find it very quickly.

I use the BBC timelines quite a lot. You just put "BBC timeline Ethiopia," or whatever, and it will give you the entire history. I do regard the BBC ones as close to 100 percent reliable.

There are others that do this also. CNN will do some timelines once in a while. CNN abroad, as most of you probably know here, is much better than CNN in this country. They have quite an experienced staff and also linguists.

But no reporter with Internet access should expect editors to fill in the blanks anymore. You should be able to do this yourself.

In this period when editors are overworked, also, on 24-hour news cycles—and having to do everything online from editing copy to printing the newspaper on their computers—they don't always have time. The curmudgeons sit down every day and find all the mistakes in The New York Times. Sometimes this is what happens. But again, this puts the onus on the reporter and, in fact, the responsibility to be sure about facts.

Email is now a reporting tool. It would have been unthinkable not too long ago that a reporter could interview someone by email. But, you know, sometimes if you read a story coming from Tripoli, Cairo, or Bangkok, you will see an email interview with someone at NYU [New York University], Harvard, Michigan, or someplace—some person who is an expert. It costs nothing, basically. It is now becoming acceptable. In fact, it adds texture to the reporting in a way that you can't always do it.

Academics sometimes said to me when I was out in the field that they half-resent and half-value a journalist because they feel they know much more about the place; but, on the other hand, they are sometimes not as up-to-date with what is happening day to day. So I always felt that I should read all the books I could by academics, and they should read as much as they could of newspaper reporting.

The online news sites are quite good, I think. Today, for example—whether or not you think this is a fair story—I read somewhere that it was that had first broken the story about Herman Cain and his sexual harassment suits, picked up by then the mainstream media.

This happens quite a lot. I'm talking about online news sites that are reliable and are not completely biased one way or the other.

Steve Engelberg, who used to be the Times investigative editor, has now left and has written a column about this, questioning whether this story came out too soon, with too many holes in it. Whether it builds up over days and whether it matters is going to be debated. But there was such a rush to get this story out as soon as someone came forward, who they are now saying has been part of Rick Perry's supporters.

As for TV—I've never worked in TV, so what I see, I see the way you would as an outsider—I think TV's use of video uploads is remarkable. You see shaky handheld devices. In Iran during the revolution, some of the most dramatic footage came from people on the street, who simply uploaded it to CNN or the BBC or somebody else.

Obviously, you know the downsides of technology in news reporting:

    • Ignorant postings—people who don't know what they are talking about and just are out to blast somebody for reporting something.

    • Politically motivated blogs. It used to be a problem with stringers, these people who work just part-time for a publication sometimes or a TV station, a local person who may have all the local contacts and the language, but also may be involved with the political party or some group in the society that you don't necessarily want to reflect their point of view. The use of these devices has very much been policed by the big networks, and they do try to find out.

    • Pictures are pictures generally, although they can be doctored. There is a huge fight still going on in Sri Lanka over the treatment of the people who had been captives of the Tamil Tigers—whether they were killed in cold blood by the military—because people are now questioning even the pictures. It used to be you sometimes questioned the reporting.

    • Also, fraud is easy.

  • And dangerous bullying. You know the stories about the use of technology.

In the case of The New York Times, Jayson Blair, who was probably one of the worst cases of misleading the newspaper and stealing from other people's writing, was using his cell phone so they would never know where he was. You could say, "I'm at home in New York," you could say, "I'm in Washington," and it couldn't be traced. So this has added another thing that editors have to think about: Am I really getting the story from where he says he is?

Back to the new sources of news. As I said, they need tough scrutiny. But they can add real-time reality, as in the case of the Iranian election, in Tripoli or anywhere in Libya, in Tahrir Square, and in Syria now, often some of the footage gives some sense of the context.

Anyone who knows a city like Hama [Syria] will be able perhaps to recognize and determine whether or not this is really what they are seeing.

It works in this country too. Take the collapse of the stage at the Indiana State Fair this summer: except for local reporters, most news organizations would not have covered the Indiana State Fair. So the people with the cell phones and the handheld devices that could photograph and video this tragedy really had an open season on giving their footage to the TV stations all around the country, and probably abroad.

As I suggested, the 24-hour news room is straining journalists. There is less time for reflection. There is constant updating for the print media.

On TV that word "live" is so important. I was in Cairo this year after Tahrir Square for the time being had calmed down. I could see journalists, exhausted, standing there, trying to put together stories late at night, early in the morning before the sun came up, because of the time difference, being asked questions that they couldn't possibly answer at that time of day. Or it was Friday, or there was some other reason.

So you often see reporters sitting in pitch darkness in front of a wobbly Skype or something, where they are trying to tell the stories all the time. When you can send two or three people in and one can sleep, this is okay. But I think it is a lot of pressure.

On the standard media, the press, the same thing happens. With online services or online editions of newspapers, a reporter often has to report again and again and again.

They do it because many are afraid that someone who doesn't know the story will embroider it in some way or will change it in some way or misunderstand it, and then the paper goes out with information that isn't accurate. And then, if it is corrected, everyone in the blogosphere says, "Aha, we see what you did." It has added a lot more tension, I think, to people who are in constant contact with the newsroom.

Are the online standards different from the media? I think the traditional media editors often worry about facts, about style rules—how do you spell the name of Tunisia's new moderate Islamic party, when I've seen it spelled three or four ways?

And diplomats have some of the same problems as journalists. People used to tell me at the UN they used to finish work, go out to dinner, have a nice evening, and come back, go to sleep, wake up in the morning, and get ready for the cables that came.

Now they go to a dinner, they come home, and they wake up right away, because the foreign ministry in some country 10-12 hours away is saying, "We see on The New York Times website that this event happened at the UN. What do you know?" So it has created a 24-hour news cycle for many diplomats, as well I'm sure for UN people, especially those who are working in politics and peacekeeping.

Now, quickly, I'd like to speak about relations with governments and the military.

In World War II, those of you who read the old books—I'm really not that old—but anyway, reporters traveled with the military and often wore military uniforms. They used words like "we" or "our boys." They were part of the team in some of that war reporting. It was really a question of embedding in an early stage. It's still an issue in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. We can talk about that if you are interested.

There is still some camaraderie, though, between military and journalists in some places. Again, a lot of information, and sometimes safety in movement depends on traveling with the military. Again, if you are in a place where you are the enemy, no matter what uniform you are wearing, that is an issue.

The Vietnam War, as you know, turned things upside-down. The media turned generally hostile to the government, at least some of the influential media.

But then, within a couple of years, people were asking, "Did we miss things?" Maybe some of the things they were telling us were true about the military leaders and the government in Vietnam.

There was a great book by Peter Braestrup of The Washington Post, called The Big Story. It was about the Tet Offensive in 1968. The Tet Offensive was a series of attacks all over Vietnam, but two places in particular: in Saigon, where all the journalists were, and in Hue, which was a very famous city historically and a center of intellectual life in Vietnam. He basically wrote the story that the press was so interested in proving that the Vietnamese had really clobbered the Americans—the American project, South Vietnamese also—in this war, that that became the received opinion everywhere else.

In 1988, Nguyen Van Linh, who was the Communist Party chief at the time, met with a few of us in Saigon. He was retired. He said, "You know, we were stunned by the propaganda coup in the United States. Everyone knows we lost the Tet Offensive. A lot of things didn't happen that they said. While no one was looking, they went in and murdered intellectuals from one end of Hue to the other."

Now if you go back, the Vietnamese are much more analytical about the war than we are. Nguyen Van Linh talked about directing the war in the south—he was a North Vietnamese—from that area on the Cambodian border that everyone said the U.S. was lying about where the Vietnamese were.

I never knew any reason why he would want to tell us these things, since he was in charge of all of Vietnam as Communist Party chief after the reunion of the North and South.

In 2003 I went back. My former interpreter in Hanoi when I was working in Southeast Asia introduced me to people who had tried to start an antiwar movement in Vietnam. They were poets and intellectuals. Every one of them had gone to jail or into exile on the border with Laos.

The Vietnamese sent journalists into war with the troops. They were supposed to report back cheerful things. They were also supposed to keep the morale of the troops up. I learned so much about that.

The interesting thing to me is that the Vietnamese were examining, reexamining, and reexamining again in the North. The South was sure it had been a disaster. But the North has always been more intellectual, and the South has been of course commercial and very successful.

I could talk about many books, but one book in particular came out, called The Sorrow of War, which came out in 1995. Bao Ninh was the author's name, and my interpreter in Vietnam was the translator. It was a book about the horror from the Vietnamese side of the war, the brutality, the people who went crazy, and the tremendous brutality of the battlefield because they didn't have the equipment and things that the other side had.

These trends come and go. Americans have not really gone back. I wrote a story about the poets, that was called "What the Poets Thought," for the World Policy Journal here in New York.

I could never interest anyone in a book on the North Vietnamese, because they suffered horribly. You'd go into a house and they would have pictures of young man—"This one was killed by the French, this one was killed by the Americans, and this one was killed in Cambodia, and we never found his body." They were writing very soulful poems about dead stones, about the kinds of things that are really incredibly good and also very touching.

Washington leaks. In wartime they do this. It will usually be somebody who doesn't like a policy and will talk to reporters—often in Washington not the reporter on the scene, who may know what is actually going on, but these stories will come out, and they will haunt reporters. It is a little harder to do now, again because of the technology, but it happens.

When there are leaks out of government, they are leaks from people who are basically opposed, as I said, to policies. They can be picked up by a blogger, they can be picked up by an analyst, by a foundation, or by anybody with a website or blog.

Some of them are very, very good analyses, and some of them are very good stories. But you have to always be choosy.

I think everybody in this kind of a group would be on listservs of people whom you trust, and they would be sending you stuff.

Just quickly, I'd like to bring up the topic of the ethics of interviews and naming names. Abroad this was never usually an issue, because you thought, "This person will never read The New York Times, The Washington Post, or The Wall Street Journal." But it was very much on the minds of people.

Years ago I went to Cambodia with a Congressional delegation to talk to women who had been raped. Vietnamese boat people came out. They were Thai fishermen, but they were Thai pirates, and the women were sexually assaulted. We went to a camp where there had been some women. One of them wanted to tell her story, and she told her story at great length.

I asked her her name. One of the congressional aides said, "You can't do that."

I said, "Are you sure you want to tell me your name?"

She said, "I want my family to know where I am."

So I went back, and I wrote the story. Somebody called her uncle in Massachusetts and said, "They found your niece."

It was a lucky break. It could have come out a different way. But she was so desperate that she wanted people to know she was alive. That, it seems to me, is an easy case.

There are other cases that aren't that easy. Now, pretty much, the rule is you have to have permission.

When I was even traveling around to write a UN report, which was not controversial in the sense of what people were saying, we were running around Ethiopia in refugee camps with forms that someone had to sign to say "It's okay to use my name" or "It's okay to use my picture."

In a place like Finland, for example, we couldn't photograph anybody in a retirement home. One woman stepped forward and said she would be willing to be photographed. The photographer—he's Finnish—went and found other people in other retirement homes.

But it has become a much more sensitive issue now, because these things are global—and especially if you are not careful with the facts, or misunderstand the facts through two interpretations or whatever, these things can go wrong.

I just have one last note on the internet and on blogging, the social media, really. That is on the question of the human condition.

Beyond the scope of media professionals, trend-spotting, and untold newsworthy stories—years ago, generations ago—people were told to rely on literature, great books, good movies, even opera, to write or sing or talk about the human condition. The idea was that you could read these, and you would understand that all of humanity passes through some of the problems that you see, and that life has never been easythat you're not the only person who's got this problem.

I can see some of this in the social media. I don't watch much of it—I just don't have time—or read much of it online. But all communities are there—gay and lesbian in particular, or others; parents with problems; people writing about their animals.

I was cat-sitting somewhere, and this cat got sick, and I found blogs and veterinary comments, and so forth, on line, with all kinds of advice. You'll find "Oh, every cat has this problem once in a while." I felt so much better.

It is a very interesting sociological thing that I am sure there are 100 Ph.D. candidates working on right now.

Even celebrity gossip, which I loathe—it reveals a person who may now be on top of the world, and then they say how insecure he or she was as a child—"He said I was too short, I was too fat, I was too something." It's sad in many ways that people are saying these things.

We were talking earlier about people getting on the Internet and saying things that you wouldn't say to your friends in a restaurant. But they don't seem to see anything wrong.

Millions of ordinary people find that they are sharing—not just in this country, but around the world—some of the same human concerns. I think that is to be looked at a little bit more, but it is one of the good sides of social media.

That's all I was going to say, and that's too much. We have time for a conversation for half an hour.


ZORNITSA STOYANOVA: Thank you so much, Barbara. You have given us a lot to think about, and you ended on a very, I think, positive note.

But I want to take us back a little bit to something a little different in the beginning, the new dangers of the new journalism, because I think it is very important. We know about this, but I don't think we analyze it and we don't lead this type of life, to understand exactly what is going on.

I just wanted to talk a little bit about the factors that have made it such a dangerous profession now.

You spoke about the fact that journalists have lost their value as a channel of communication because now there are other channels that are easier to use; the pressures, the competition, the fact that they are pushing themselves to get the next story.

But it seems to me also the actual harm done to journalists is in itself a message—journalists are a very easy target for terrorist organizations because they are civilians, they are there, they're curious, they want to talk to them. It just seems to me that the act itself is the message that is being sent. And then, of course, it is being televised and it is broadcast, so it all seems to come together in this pernicious combination.

You mentioned about the new safety courses, the gear that is being used, the post-traumatic stress disorder, and this type of counseling that is available. Are you aware if this has become standard practice, or is it just some news organizations that are doing this, and maybe some journalists actually do not have access to this type of protection?

Or they refuse it. That's quite common.

I'd like to start at the bottom-up. One of the reasons that foreign bureaus are closing all around the world is that it is so expensive now to keep a correspondent overseas.

If you are living in a city where there is any danger of kidnapping, which is common in many places, you have to live in a secure place, where you probably pay more rent, and you need security around your own house. Your children go to school; you need a driver who has security training. And again, it's all of these things—a bigger car perhaps, a safer car. That's the cream of the journalists' life.

But people who aren't in those big organizations and are working on their own probably face a lot of problems—they may not be such big targets as a big house in a suburb of Delhi with a high wall and a big car, for kidnapping or theft or armed robbery—except that they are seen to be part of the rich expatriate community. In a world where so many people are living in poverty, over 1.6 billion in dire poverty, in some countries it is very tempting. These targets are very big.

Sometimes it is being in the wrong place at the wrong time or just bad luck. A good friend of mine, Sharon Herbaugh, was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. She had an 11-year-old daughter.

I will not go in balloons, helicopters, boats, things like that, that are dangerous, now because I think, How many times have I been in a situation where—you know, you're in some rickety Army helicopter, but that's the only way to get from point A to point B, or a very bad airline?

In South East Asia—I won't name what airline—but it was in such awful shape that one of their planes once ran out of fuel and crashed, just because the gas tank was empty. In it were diplomatic couriers taking documents back and forth to embassies and all kinds of other people.

So these things happen. And because you have to be there when you have to be there, you don't say, "I'm waiting until I get a better flight." Then all your competitors will beat you out.

Elizabeth Neuffer, a very good reporter, was killed in a car accident in Iraq, with a driver trying to drive too fast to get her somewhere she had to be in a hurry. Michael Kelly was killed in a car crash in Iraq.

One of the things I didn't talk about—and this is coming out more now—is sexual assault of female reporters. A woman named Lauren Wolfe has written a good study for the Committee to Protect Journalists on this. It came out of the Lara Logan incident in Cairo.

What Lauren found out is a lot of women have not talked about this because they don't want to be pulled back because they are women. It's often hard enough to get a job as a foreign correspondent if you are a woman. And then they will say, "Oh, we can't send a woman there." So some women have never told their stories.

Western women are one thing, because they are considered targets in many countries. But these things happen to local people, men and women, sexual assault and all kinds of bodily harm, too.

It may have always happened in history. I don't think so. I think these events have to do, in part, with the lifting of inhibitions and, again, the absolute dislike for people from other cultures, and the demeaning of them by attacking them personally this way.

Does that get to some of your questions?

ZORNITSA STOYANOVA: Yes, absolutely.

I was wondering too, how do we parse out the responsibility of the news organization and of the reporter for ensuring his or her safety? I'm sure that every reporter would have personal responses. But where is that line where you have this very important story that you have to get in a very hostile environment? And you really want to get it, but you have to say at some point, "Well, that's it, I have to back out and not put my life in danger"? How do you negotiate these very hard decisions?

: Some reporters eventually just leave the job. They come back to reporting. I don't know that Capitol Hill these days isn't dangerous in its own funny way.

But seriously, obviously journalists are insured. This is, again, part of the expense of a big organization. If you are on your own, your medical insurance and everything else is a great expense.

This is another thing, that health is a concern in an era of epidemic diseases, including in a city like Delhi where there are lots of things you can catch. But this year and last year, they have had lots of people dying of Dengue fever, and this year in Lahore as well. Diseases are now global. As they always say, germs have passports now. So they don't have barriers. They can go place to place.

I think it's negotiated. I think editors have to weed out people who they know for a fact will be unable to cope. But those people usually don't come forward to these kinds of assignments.

Some of the older journalists, who have been in the business a much longer time as foreign correspondents, brush aside a lot of the concerns. Some of them have developed smarts of all kinds on how to stay safe.

But you never know. As I said, as with the incident with Sharon in the helicopter—they were going up to northern Afghanistan for some reason. People have been killed in crossfire in assassinations.

In my case with Rajiv Gandhi, I just stayed behind and talked to his press person about what was going to happen next. I was in his car. He walked ahead. I don't know how many yards or meters he was—people always ask me—and I saw this flash and felt the dust. I think 17 or 19 people were killed who were closer to him.

I was covering a political rally. He was trying to come back as prime minister, and we were going to one of the nicest parts of India in the south. It was a lovely night. They had lots of lights out. He was headed for the dais to speak. Those things you cannot know.

In India I saw in 1984 Sikhs murdered, massacred in the street. Because Sikhs are identified by their long hair, I saw Sikhs scalped on a train. You have to go and see it because the government and others will say, "That didn't happen."

And then, of course, in a place like India, local people come to your aid, and they kind of stand around. It's not a totalitarian state. It's much worse if you try to do that kind of reporting somewhere else.

Now, in many ways, governments are making the decisions for them. For instance, now you can't really go to Damascus unless you get an invitation. That obviates the problem.


Let's open the floor up for discussion.

Do you want to say anything, Scott? Scott lived as a freelance journalist, and now he's with an NGO.

Actually a question does come to mind. I worked as a freelance journalist for many, many years and recently moved to the nonprofit sector, working for BRAC, a big Bangladeshi-based NGO. I was speaking here in New York. I met with one of my New York-based editors, an editor at Slate, the online magazine, who said, "You know, you're not the first one. This seems to be a trend."

As the cutbacks are going on in traditional media, a lot of the reporting function is actually being taken up by the nonprofit sector. International Crisis Group, for instance, comes to mind, or Human Rights Watch. And of course, with these organizations, you usually don't get the sexy byline. But these are the ones that have the money and the wherewithal to actually fund the reporting that needs to be done.

Is that a trend that you see happening, and do you see it going on in the future?

BARBARA CROSSETTE: Yes. Actually, I should have mentioned also that in my own experience and others', exactly the two groups you mentioned, the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch for human rights, were invaluable resources. Their reports are very good.

Of course, in South East Asia, I worked a lot with Cambodians. I taught Cambodian journalists about covering the Khmer Rouge tribunal, the Cambodian Justice Initiative, the Soros Foundation, and other people. When they do a report, they also cover the background and the context.

So it's easy for journalists if you are thrown into these things, which sometimes still happens, especially with fewer people out there—you know, one day you may be here and the next day you're in some other continent. Those organizations are extremely helpful.

Some journalists do that. Those who can swing it try to write a book or something. Some start blogs. Some go into academic life. The tragedy is that now, with foreign news at such a low level in the United States, there isn't much teaching of international journalism. It's not out there as a career.

You know, it's interesting. At The New York Times right now, for the first time the top editors at the paper have no foreign experience. It used to be at The Times—I came to The Times in 1973, and I came from England, where I had worked for a while—you had to have foreign experience of some kind in order to rise to the top of the newspaper. Every great editor had been a foreign correspondent—Andy Rosenthal, Joe Lelyveld, Max Frankel. So this has changed, and it indicates a change in the whole industry.

Some people are being sort of attrited out of journalism just by the nature of what is happening in the business. I guess some use their journalistic skills to bring them to an NGO or a foundation, and others use their skills because they know an area or a topic or something like that. So it's happening, but I don't think it's a big trend right now.

QUESTION: My name is Zuhal, I go to NYU [New York University]. I am studying global affairs. It feels so right to hear you tonight because I majored in journalism, and I love what I do. I think you would be exactly the right person to ask this question. You happened to observe the transition between digital media and traditional media. So I would like to zoom in your opinion: Do you think that technology—the Internet, specifically—is a friend or foe?

I think in many ways, the question of whether the Internet is a friend or a foe—whether it's a tool or an intrusion might be a different way to put it. I think it's certainly a tool.

In peace studies and in human rights, the internet has been a huge help to local people, including local journalists, who want to get a story out by themselves. It has been a tremendous help to organizations like Médecins Sans Frontières, who are very good at public relations. They get their stories out, and it's so much easier to do it on the internet now.

And you can raise money on the Internet. Think of the amount of money, some $400-and-some billion that Americans, even in the recession, are giving to various crises areas through charity and donations to foundations.

So it has had its good effects.

It also connects a lot of very lonely, endangered people to the rest of the world, and to other people who may be able to help them, by giving them advice, and even making them not feel so isolated.

In terms of the internet being a foe, I don't know. Again, it's due to people who use the internet wrongly. It's careless reporting, scare stories, and stories that aren't true that can do damage to you and to the people around you and to the people you are writing about.

It often takes a long time to overcome a really false story because it's in cyberspace, and everybody who is interested has read it.

Does that come close to your question? Does anybody want to add to that?

My name is Mark. I'm with the United Nations. Just a quick question to get your perspective on maybe one of the tensions.

My brother-in-law works as a freelance reporter, and he goes to these war countries you mentioned where he often finds himself in dangerous situations. You talked about the risks to journalists. There is a danger, though, because a number of journalists need to go out there and get the story.

When they do find themselves in difficult situations, their governments or international organizations are called upon to help, mediate, and negotiate. They are then asked to spend some political capital on one individual. In some cases, to be honest, this puts in jeopardy a number of other processes, negotiations, and so on.

But at the same time I think it is important to make sure that journalists have the opportunity and the capacity to go out there and get the information, as you said, because host governments or other parties will not share that information or will not want that reality to be reflected elsewhere.

But we have come across those incidents where you have to make very difficult decisions between spending political capital on one individual and putting other things in jeopardy, and at the same time doing it so that the principles and the protection—not just protection of journalists, but the idea that people need to go out there and get the story is respected.

I just wanted to get your perspective on that tension, because it's not easy to resolve.

BARBARA CROSSETTE: It is a tension.

I would add one more thing. The government or the international organization—more the government—has responsibility to its citizens. This is a more sharply defined responsibility. So if someone is kidnapped or put in jail, the American government has to take some sort of a stand and has to work with the government, has to demand the right to see that person, and so on. That's a kind of clear-cut responsibility.

If you have a completely reckless person—as I'm sure your brother-in-law is not—who is forever getting into trouble, after a while I'm sure some diplomats think, "Oh, my God." But again, it's their responsibility. They have to do it.

The people in government—I dealt mostly with them in the missions. I found the State Department really very difficult. I found Washington impossible because you had to move in a pack—you know, all State Department reporters or White House reporters together. I hated it. I did it briefly and, sadly, twice.

But there are other areas. I was once in a bunch of journalists and the Vietnamese shelled over our heads to try to get us to go to the other side of the Cambodian border. There was a front-page picture in the Bangkok Post of all of us running across this field to hide in a village.

The next day I got a call from the military attaché at the embassy. He said, "Come in and let me tell you a few things." He taught me what happens when you are shelled. You lie in the deepest ditch you can find. If you're flat on the ground, you have to get a direct hit. But if you're running along, it's like being in a shooting arcade. I mean I learned a lot of stuff.

I learned, apart from the two UN courses I had to take, that they can be helpful. Even when you have done a dumb thing, like run in front of artillery shelling—most of us don't know anything about being in the military.

That's another interesting question. When you get a former soldier who becomes a journalist, or the other way around, it's very interesting.

I don't know. Does that come anywhere close to your question?

QUESTIONER: Absolutely. It's just that sometimes the restrictions that are put on journalists to avoid those situations are framed as means to protect them. But they can also restrict freedom of work and freedom of investigation. And in the end these restrictions may defeat the purpose of investigative journalism and going out there in the difficult areas, where you can't have all the protections.


QUESTIONER: So there's got to be a tension between the journalists and the military or the government to find the right balance.

BARBARA CROSSETTE: Yes. And it depends on whose government. Afghanistan is a good case now, because a lot of people who want to go out and spend time on the border with Pakistan go with the military—and if you are in a country where you stand out obviously as a foreigner, you can become a target just for that. They don't even bother to find out if you are an aid worker or a journalist or what you are.

So there is tension, because a journalist feels that he or she is forced to go with the military.

Humanitarian people hate this because they don't want to be associated with the military. So that's a tremendous tension. The humanitarian workers, and sometimes a lot of UN people, want to see the back of any army—particularly the American Army, because then the local people don't trust them.

So some journalists risk their lives dressed up in local clothes or whatever. I know a woman who—maybe during the Soviet time it was less dangerous than under the Taliban—went in a burka into Afghanistan from Peshawar. She was with a mujahideen at the time, and he was telling them, "My wife is deaf and dumb." But that was really forbidden, and yet she did it.

Chris Hedges went into the Arab marshes at the bottom of Iraq during the first American war—when there was bombing and all kinds of things going on—completely against an order from The New York Times not to do it. He wanted to write about the marsh Arabs in Iraq. So people do it. They come back. I'm not sure what ever happened after that, but people were a little bit wary of letting him go.

There is tension between editor and reporter, military and reporters, governments and reporters, and lots of other places. So it is a balancing act, and it is difficult. It is worse if you are in a place like Afghanistan or Iraq.

ZORNITSA STOYANOVA: I'm afraid that we are out of time.

Please join me for a round of applause for Barbara. Thank you so much for being with us, and thank you all for coming.

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