A veteran combat correspondent who has worked for CNN, NBC, and ABC, Kevin Sites set off for Somalia this week, the first of up to 31 conflict-ridden countries he will report from over the next year for Yahoo! News. Working as a one-man unit, Sites aims to produce transparent and empathetic journalism — using video, audio, text, still photos, and interactive chat — and “provide a dimension of reporting that you just haven’t seen before.” His daily “Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone” reports start September 26. Sites, 42, won an Edward R. Murrow Award as a NBC producer for coverage of the war in Kosovo.
Edward B. Colby: Few people, war correspondents or not, would voluntarily go on a tour of global hot zones. Why are you doing this?
Kevin Sites: I think these stories are so underreported that there are things that, I don’t want to say they’ve been completely ignored by the mainstream media, but they’ve just been incredibly undercovered to the point where especially in the U.S., we don’t even know where these countries are for the most part, let alone that there are conflicts going on in them. The idea behind this project was, especially for Yahoo! as the launch of their first news correspondent, is to do some of the most difficult kind of journalism that we can to really enhance some of the credibility of our newsgathering efforts … but additionally that we need to do things that other people aren’t doing. We need to go to places that other people aren’t covering, and Yahoo! is one of those unique multimedia platforms where you can actually do this. If I had gone to the networks — if I had gone to NBC or CBS or ABC or anyone else and told them that I wanted to do this — they probably would laugh in my face. I couldn’t have even done one story in Africa unless there was very compelling news that had a very hard American angle on it. And for Yahoo! to allow me to pursue stories in places that people haven’t even heard of is I think a huge commitment to authentic journalism, to the kind of journalism that people will pay lip service to but rarely provide.
The other thing about this which is pretty interesting [is] it brings together this whole nexus of smaller digital newsgathering equipment — being able to go out in the field and do a story almost like a print reporter, where I don’t disturb the environment to the same degree that I would if I were traveling with a four-person television crew … Second, it allows us to move fairly quickly and be mobile, to go to places that might take a longer time if we were trying to get a lot of gear and equipment and people in. That nexus of smaller newsgathering tools [will be] combined with the Internet delivery system, as well as our focus — which is going to be human narrative storytelling most like magazine journalism, narrative nonfiction where we don’t chase headlines and we don’t just do body counts, [but] we put the human face on every story we cover.
EBC: You say you are challenging the mainstream media to recapture its mission and reinvigorate its international coverage, that there is “huge dissatisfaction” among today’s news consumers. How do you think the mainstream media is failing them?