AF: Were your other correspondents there assigned to Afghanistan by GlobalPost or were they already based there?
CS: They’ve lived there for years. Shahan Mufti is a Pakistani-American whose family is there and has lived there on and off throughout his life. An excellent journalist. And Jean MacKenzie has lived there for at least, I would say, five years. And Jean’s got great language skills and is an outstanding correspondent who also works for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting. So through her education of Afghan journalists, she has eyes all over the country.
AF: I noticed Iran isn’t in the list of countries where your correspondents are based.
CS: Right, it was impossible for us to establish a bureau there but we had two really good correspondents there [during the recent elections]. We had Iason Athanasiadis who was detained and whom we had to work very hard for his release in coordination with others. And then we also had Cameron Abadi who was out of Berlin but who is of Iranian background—a very talented journalist and freelance correspondent who offered to go for us, and we loved his work. They took two very different approaches. Iason was very much out on the street and reported very live and powerfully and maybe perhaps, as a result, was apprehended at the airport on his way out and was put in Iranian prison for three weeks. We were very worried about him and worked with the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Washington Times, who he was also writing for, and the Pulitzer Center, and got him out.
And then there’s Cameron who was a little bit more under-the-radar. More analysis, a little bit more removed maybe and he sensed the peril and went underground and didn’t write for a while. And then he wrote a few pieces for us from there and then left the country—we were very happy to hear—got back to Berlin and wrote a couple of powerful essays about what he saw. So we tried to cover Iran in two very different approaches but with great concern and great caution for the risks the journalists were taking.
AF: If there were some event developing, some conflict brewing would you ever send someone to cover it specifically?
CS: With Iran we did. We went to cover the election. Like most news organizations, we didn’t realize it would become such a hard news story. But we were well placed to do that, so we have done that and we’ve done it sparingly, but I think with pretty good success. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve had correspondents we have sent into embeds to cover the conflict there but only after they’ve had sufficient training in covering hostile environments. And I feel, and I take this very seriously, that they have the have the maturity and reporting experience to operate safely in a war zone. So we take very seriously the idea that people are going into dangerous assignments.
We have freelancers knocking on our doors every day who want to go to Iraq, but we don’t do that. We use a correspondent who we know is very experienced and who we know can go there and report in an important way and tell us the big developments. There’s plenty of live coverage out of Iraq. We want something we consider value-added and the same is true of Afghanistan.
AF: What I got from “Life, Death and the Taliban” was that this is a crucial moment, time is ripe for dialogue, and lot of factors, including the election and the surge in U.S. troops, have set the region up for a major transition. But a recent report by David Folkenflik for NPR cited statistics from the Project for Excellence in Journalism showing that the story in Afghanistan has not been very high profile. In fact, it saw just as much coverage this whole year as Michael Jackson’s death and that only happened in June.