Real war reporting


Kevin Berger
November 19, 2004 1:09AM (UTC)

Newspapers continue to plummet in readership because they are as bland as fast food, often composed of wire stories stripped of everything that makes writing compelling save a few decent facts. But that's not because wire journalists aren't capable of writing with emotion and insight and language that grabs readers. It's just that they are obliged to march in step with the newspaper industry's guiding principle: Don't offend.

But not always. Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder Newspapers bureau chief in Baghdad, has posted a story today that reads like a riveting letter home to friends. She confesses that a year ago she was thrilled at covering the war in polyglot Iraq. "We've met Kurdish wedding musicians trying out a new keyboard, marsh Arabs zipping by on narrow boats, Iranian pilgrims ecstatic in ornate shrines, foreign guerrillas hiding among lush orchards, oil smugglers sweating at southern ports," she writes.

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But the thrill is gone. "After one bombing, a young boy shoved a severed hand in my face," she writes. "Another time, I used a tissue to pick shreds of human flesh off my shoes after covering a car bombing. Gagging, I gave up and pushed the sneakers deep into the trash."

Clearly, Allam's dispatch is not one you often see on the front page of your morning paper. On the surface it's about the changing fate of journalists in Iraq. But of course, it's also about a chaos much wider and deeper.


Kevin Berger

Kevin Berger is the former features editor at Salon.

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