“Diary of a Bad Year: A War Correspondent’s Dilemma” on PRX
About Diary of a Bad Year: A War Correspondent’s Dilemma
This project was born in the place where so many good ideas come to life — Woods Hole. I was visiting Jay and the Transom Story Workshop to talk about making radio.
Like good reporters, Jay and Melissa Allison, Viki Merrick, Samantha Broun, Sydney Lewis, and Rob Rosenthal asked me a lot of tough questions. As I answered, I realized the tables had been turned on me, that by confronting me with the curiosity I usually apply to the people I interview, they were getting me to say and realize things I didn’t even know were true.
I had deep concerns about my job, but I never would have examined them this fully had it not been for the welcoming, open, supportive, loving hearts in Woods Hole — and, later, for conversations I had with my dear friend, the great radio producer, Sean Cole. At one point I remember writing an email to Jay that said something like, “If I really go through with this project, I will end up quitting my job.”
We’ll see about that. What I do know is that making this story has totally altered the way I look at what I and most of my friends do for a living. It has made me more aware and ultimately more safe in the field. It was hard, it was personal, but I think it was worth it.
What I learned
One of the biggest lessons for me was that it’s all about perspective. It’s one thing to talk about this stuff casually with friends (and with yourself), but it’s another thing to really dig deep and try to prosecute the ideas, especially when it’s your own life that’s on the stand. Doing this kind of work is hard, and it takes time.
When Jay and I started this back in 2011, he suggested I record diaries as I went along. No expectations — just record what comes to mind as it’s happening. It sounds easy, but for me it was hard.
Just that simple act of stepping back, removing myself from the moment, was a struggle. Some of the diaries were unusable, mainly because I wasn’t able to step back far enough, or because they were just too sad.
Here’s diary I recorded at like 3:00 a.m., in Yemen, the week that Anthony Shadid (the award-winning journalist for the The New York Times) died. I had just heard that another member of the tribe, Marie Colvin (the award-winning journalist for the British paper The Sunday Times), died.
Listening back to this clip, it’s clear I didn’t have much perspective. I talk about how I’m NOT a war correspondent like Marie and others, and yet only a few months later, I was basically embedded with Syrian rebels. Months after that I was at the front line.
Also, I talk about how Marie’s stories had some bearing on the international community’s policy in Syria, clearly because that’s what I wanted to believe. It’s only now that I can painfully admit her stories had little impact. The killing in Homs, the place where she was reporting when she died, continued after her death. More than one year later, it continues today.
Still, keeping a diary was really, really cool. So cool that I still do it, as a matter of course. One great help is that I can do it on my iPhone. I just tap Hindenburg and start talking. That way if I’m in public, I don’t look like a crazy cat lady — I look like I’m talking on the phone.
At the risk of repeating myself, I have to say that I think the key here was knowing that someone would be *listening* to these diaries, that someone actually cared to know what I had to say.
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