Post Editor: Iraq ‘Testing Everything We Know About Ourselves And Journalism’

david_e_hoffman.jpgThe Post’s Foreign Editor David Hoffman wrote his colleagues a little essay yesterday explaining why they shouldn’t get Iraq fatigue: The Post’s Ellen Knickmeyer and Jonathan Finer are anything but “hotel journalists.”

“Ellen has been leading our bureau for a year now, a year of 24/7 tension, constant uncertainty, dramatic shifts in the story and a car bomb attack on the hotel next to our bureau. Jon, who was among the first reporters we embedded with the military in 2003, has been back in Iraq on this tour since last summer. The two of them–joined by a rotating group of other reporters, the most recent of whom is John Ward Anderson of our Paris bureau–have defined what it means to persevere and shine on a story,” he wrote, and then went on to elaborate the trials of reporting in Iraq.

Here’s the rest:


David Hoffman’s post in yeterday’s critiques:

War Room

This is another Washington Post newsroom, far from the comforts of skim-nowhip-vanilla-latte and quiet moments to browse the paper. This is Baghdad, where bureau chief Ellen Knickmeyer and correspondent Jonathan Finer were collaborating recently on a story. It’s after midnight, generators are groaning outside to keep the lights on, beyond the windows sandbags are piled neck-high, and guards keep watch. Ellen and Jon are smiling because I was taking the photo, but there are few smiles in this war, which is testing everything we know about ourselves and journalism.

Ellen has been leading our bureau for a year now, a year of 24/7 tension, constant uncertainty, dramatic shifts in the story and a car bomb attack on the hotel next to our bureau. Jon, who was among the first reporters we embedded with the military in 2003, has been back in Iraq on this tour since last summer. The two of them–joined by a rotating group of other reporters, the most recent of whom is John Ward Anderson of our Paris bureau–have defined what it means to persevere and shine on a story.

Here’s a place where stepping outside means stepping into a chaotic void. It seems quiet one minute as you cruise down the boulevard, where shops are open and people milling about, and the next minute a guy with jeans, t-shirt, black ski mask and assault rifle is standing in the middle of the street waving your car to a stop. He’s got no badge, no visible identity, perhaps no sense. It takes guts and more than a little courage to move about, but Ellen and Jon, and the others, do it regularly. I’ve heard some of the media critics say that Iraq coverage has turned into “hotel journalism” but the reality is quite the opposite. Our team was in Najaf today when a car bomb went off near the Imam Ali Shrine. Covering the war as it really is–on the ground–is one of the most trying challenges we’ve ever faced, and our colleagues have done it with great tenacity. Look at Ellen’s story March 28 about the sectarian strife and the displacement of thousands of people from their homes–Shia and Sunni running out of fear for their lives. The story has eyewitness accounts, authoritative data, context. Or take a look at Jon Finer’s Dec. 14 story about how a small Kurdish Islamic party was attacked by mobs from the larger parties. To get this scoop, Jon hustled up to Dahuk and interviewed witnesses, and also brought back a video recorded during the attack, which we posted on the web. That’s not hotel journalism.

We work closely with Iraqis in covering the war, and when it comes to guts, stress and trauma, imagine their days and nights. In the last three years, they’ve seen their country turned upside down, their streets blocked by militias and soldiers, relatives killed, families huddling for safety after dark. Yet for three years, they’ve stood by our side, with fierce loyalty to the paper and our mission of getting out the story. When you say goodnight to Iraqi colleagues at dusk as they leave to get home before the 8 pm curfew, you understand the real meaning of dedication.

Next time you feel a little Iraq fatigue, pause for a bit longer to appreciate the accomplishments of Outpost Baghdad, and the journalists who’ve been on the front lines for us.