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War Reporters

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Anthony Shadid who died from an asthma attack while he was reporting from Syria with NY Times photographer Taylor Hicks. Most reporters who enter a war zone clandestinely travel with security personnel one of whom is usually a medic. Shadid and Hicks, probably for logistical reasons, decided to travel solo, relying only on one another. Hicks did the best he could to revive Shadid who collapsed on their way out.

Lebanese-born, fluent in Arabic, and experienced in the field, Anthony Shadid had recently been in Libya where he had been taken hostage. After his release, he had returned to his new wife and baby in Lebanon before setting out again to cover the uprising in Syria.

I did not know Anthony Shadid personally though I have known other war reporters and photographers. I first began to meet them at press events in London and then at parties. The word bloviating comes to mind; most were cowboys. So dehumanized by their work, I rarely heard a kind word spoken about the refugees they were interviewing or the horrors of war. If they’d been shot, so much the better for the tale, always a great adventure, adrenalin pumping. But when women entered the news rooms in the 1980’s, the culture of reporting changed, and although women war reporters can be as macho as any of their male colleagues, some seemed interested in more human stories and bravely humanized their reporting. Of course, this shift cannot only be attributed to women, but I think in large measure their presence began a larger cultural shift in the news rooms. Strange that Shadid’s writing is described as lyrical and personal— stereotypical female qualities—when it is simply human.

And there have been so many wars, so much to write about, so many stories since my years in London as a young reporter. When I began my book, “Another Day in Paradise; International Humanitarian Workers Tell Their Stories,” in 2000 one of my greatest champions was Scott Anderson who covers wars for the New York Times Magazine. When he is not in harm’s way, he returns to the city and to his home upstate where he spends his days or weeks between assignments writing fiction and chopping wood. Like Anthony Shadid, his writing is driven by his feelings for the people he encounters, how they survive, or don’t. How they endure, or don’t. And like most good reporters, he does his homework. How does the history and politics of the region become a labyrinth of fate, impossible to escape? Scott’s brother, Jon Lee Anderson, reports for The New Yorker out of the UK. He had met Patrick Dillon, one of the contributors to “Another Day in Paradise,” in Baghdad just before the American invasion and, when Patrick went missing, he contacted me immediately and then kept track of him and tried to protect him. Recovered from a recent heart attack, Jon Lee Anderson is back at work.

And then there is James Nachtwey who calls his photography “witness photography.” In harms way most of his working life, he was shot in Iraq, but has not boasted about it. The home page of his website reads: “I have been witness, and these picture are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated." One phone call, and he agreed to give us a picture for the cover of “Another Day in Paradise.” The picture was taken in Afghanistan. The money he asked was nominal.

I thought of the war reporters I know when Anthony Shadid died. And I am honored to know them.

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