J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

“If tools could make anyone who picked them up an expert, they’d be valuable indeed.” Plato, The Republic

How I Get News About Iraq

Posted by chanders on May 31, 2006

Christopher Albritton stands by his argument that the "imprisoned journalist" narrative in Iraq has been greatly exaggerated (see his response to me in the comments). Meanwhile, the Burningman
writes (again in the comments) that "the journalism coming out of Iraq is among the worst I’ve ever encountered."

Rather than resolve the dispute here, I thought I’d approach the matter sideways and analyze my own news consumption regarding the Iraq conflict. In other words, how do I, concerned, politically active, internet savvy citizen get my news about the "Vietnam of our time"?

Here goes:

Getting the blow by blow: Yahoo News and Icasualites. I’ll admit it– probably the most frequently referenced source for my news about Iraq comes from the wire services, both of which are aggregated at Yahoo News and Icasualites. Yahoo feeds Iraq news in general, while Icasualites focuses on military combat and deaths. The wires are the news sources that are updated the most often, and they lay down what I’d call the "skeleton" of the Iraq story. It would be a disaster to stop here, but I also think that understanding Iraq would be impossible without this basic background knowledge.

The dailies: The New York Times, The Washington Post, the LA Times, and Knight-Ridder.  The three dailies are hit and miss. They’re the most useful when they’re getting scoops, but too often it seems like they fall into a pattern of blindly repeating whatever it is that the briefer in the Pentagon office has to say that afternoon. Nevertheless, I read them every day; they add context and flesh to the wire service stories. I guess i could have put the Knight-Ridder bit under the wire section, but Nancy A. Youssef and Tom Lasseter do such an amazing job with their coverage that they deserve special mention. Like I said, the dailies and the wires usually operate in a tight circle of "fleshing each other out," but the KR people almost always tell me something new or take a sharply different angle on a story I knew already.

Blogger analysis and Western reporting. Albritton’s Back to Iraq blog has been consistently good– though sometimes I find him a little too much of a "hey! I’m a war correspondent!" for my taste, but that’s an issue of style, not substance. His combination of new news and blunt assessments of "what’s actually going on" is really helpful. Reading Albritton, you sort of get this sense of , "here’s what journalists are writing as professionals, and here’s what they really think" type perspective, which I think is great. Juan Cole is obviously a must-read. His knowledge of Shi’ite Islam is unmatched, and he has a special insight into the various machinations of the UIA and the other Shi’ite political parties. Plus, his translations of Al-Zaman, Al-Sharq al-Awsat, and other Arab-language papers is incredibly useful. AK Gupta with the Indypendent has also been ahead of the curve on a number of Iraq issues, especially the militia stories– kind of amazing, considering he does almost all his writing from Manhattan and has never been to Iraq, at least as far as I know.

Iraqi bloggers blogroll. I started following Iraqi blogs regularly after the bombing of the Samarra shrine. Occasionally, they’ll actually give you real "citizens journalism," a blow by blow account of "what I saw with my own eyes today." The best in this regard has probably been Healing Iraq (check out this post on street battles in Adhamiya, for example. For a while, The Mesopotamian was providing similar coverage, though he hasn’t posted for about two months. Riverbend is a must read, though her posts are more essay-like and lyrical than "hard news." Hammorabi is also useful, if only to get a Shi’ite perspective in what seems to be to be a largely Sunni blogosphere. A Family in Baghdad is actually written in Arabic.  Two of the lest reliable and interest blogs on my roll are Iraq the Model and The Truth About Iraqis. As you could probably gather from anyone who calls Iraq "a model" for anything, ITM seems mostly like US government propaganda, though the author’s analysis is interesting in that regard– you kind of feel like, "this is how the US is spinning it." TTAI is on the other side– mostly anti-American ranting and not much substance.

What I don’t consume: TV news, weekly news magazines like Time or Newsweek. I don’t have a TV, and I find that blogs give me about as much perspective as the weeklies do.

With all this, do I actually feel like I know what’s happening in Iraq? Not really. Perhaps such knowledge is impossible.

One Response to “How I Get News About Iraq”

  1. I understand the meme of the Imprisoned Journalist, but here’s what Fassihi said to me about three weeks ago when I interviewed her for a project I’m working on:

    C: we were just speaking about this before the interview, the good versus the bad news debate, and I want to wind you up on this one, I’m trying to anyway. Conservatives — and the media are being demonized on this, but is there any justification to this complaint? I mean how justified is this complaint that we’re focusing too much, taking a “if it bleeds it leads” mentality?

    F: I don’t think it’s justified at all. it seems to me that is very aggressive and orchestrated campaign to criticize the western media in Iraq and make it sound like we have an axe to grind or we’re on some sort of agenda to make the Iraq war seem like failure, which I think is appalling and insulting, considering that we all there as journalists. We’re all there as independent observers of the conflict. We’re taking huge personal risks, we’re putting our families in great agony, anxiety to our families, because we believe in our mission. We believe it’s hugely important to have independent press there, and to not have to rely on the propaganda of the government, military, whether it is the Iraqi government or US government. And I think that we may not—the security situation may prevent us from getting a hundred percent feel of the place, but I think we have a better idea of what’s going on in Iraq than anybody else. I think we have a better idea of what’s going on with the Iraqi public than the US military, which is confined to the military bases, than the diplomats who are confined to the Green Zone, and certainly than the people sitting in Washington or New York looking at TV. (emphasis added)

    Obviously this wasn’t a question on the imprisoned journalist idea, but her answer is telling, considering her email is being used to further the imprisoned meme.

    And by the way, TIME Magazine broke the Haditha story, and its former bureau chief Mick Ware has done more reporting on the insurgency than anyone else. (Just sticking up for my old mag.)

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