And in all of that reporting, what I found out was, this is an incredibly complex story in which, yes, it looks like these village elders did side with the Taliban. But my reporting lead me to connect to the dots to say, they did that to keep the girls’ school open. And that’s the kind of complexity for ground reporting and narrative reporting that we need in Afghanistan right now because that’s how complicated it is. It ends incredibly tragically.
I come back, I have all this information to share with Sally, and I show her some of the video. We had to secret a camera into the school because this was the same area where David Rohde was kidnapped. I was really seriously warned not to go to that school and I took those warnings seriously and I am not a cowboy—I have four sons. I listened to the military, the village elders—everyone said, “Don’t come.” Even the principal said, “Don’t come.” I instead found someone who lives in the village, who happened to be a cameraman for Afghan TV, and I sent a handheld camera in his hands with no notice, just surprise, one day just show up and start taping. And he did. And we did capture that the school is indeed still open, but with a trickle of students. Kids were afraid.
So I had all this stuff I wanted to share with Sally and her husband Don and we’re sitting here watching it in my office in Boston when I got back. And then that night, which is the morning in Afghanistan, the road into the school was bombed. And that’s when the twenty-five people were killed, including thirteen schoolchildren, two of whom were girls in the school, and the other eleven of whom were boys in the neighboring school. It’s so sad; it’s such a journey. It’s so truthful to what is happening in Afghanistan, which is complex and fraught with peril and fear and diminishing hope and I thought that story, in and of itself, says so much. And I thought Seamus’s story also, visually, gives you that sense of a contrasting reality, really, which is—in the long run aren’t things a little bit better? Even as bad as they are now, let’s really look at the fifteen-year trajectory. And that family story tells us that, slowly, Afghanistan is rebuilding.
AF: In talking about the sheer amount of planning and production that goes into something like this for the Web in which, you said, the metabolism is really quick., Media Storm and Brian Storm put together these beautiful, almost documentary pieces—so how do you reconcile the two?
CS: We tried to bring our metabolism and try to balance that with Brian Storm’s. I did a lot of reporting on veterans. [MediaStorm’s] “Marlboro Marine” is the best narrative that’s been done on veterans in America. Period. It is the most powerful and searing portrait of what it’s like to come home. It is excellent. But. It’s very difficult on a Web site to get someone to watch something that is eighteen minutes. So we very intentionally wanted to break this up so that we could appeal to those faster metabolisms of the Web but not compromise fully the sense that we do need to tell you some long, cool stories and to gird them with history, with reporting, real old-fashioned reporting, you know? Names, sources, dates, times, all that stuff. That balance is what we’re looking for.
AF: So how do you do something that can be very high-gloss and very production-intensive and make it sustainable?