Newspapers Pull Reporters From Embed Slots

By: Joe Strupp

Newspapers are pulling their reporters and photographers out of once-coveted military embedding slots in droves, choosing to bring many Persian Gulf War II correspondents home and give others nonembedded assignments. “They were finished,” James Smith, foreign editor of The Boston Globe, said about his paper’s three embedded reporters, who left their units last week to return to the United States. “The military aspects are over.”

In Iraq, Smith said, the Globe still has three free-roaming reporters and a photographer in Baghdad and a reporter and photographer in Basra: “They are providing very important pieces about life under Saddam, the transition, and what comes next.”

The embedding program, which once had nearly 800 journalists traveling with U.S. military units, has seen the number drop to fewer than 190 in the last three weeks, since the fall of Baghdad.

Smith’s view is shared by many editors who recently removed reporters from embedded slots. “There is better stuff elsewhere,” said Colin McMahon, foreign editor of the Chicago Tribune, which at one point had seven embedded reporters, but is down to only one. “It is good to still have one person in there, but the real story is rebuilding and the politics, and you can only get that by talking to the Iraqi people.”

The Tribune also has six nonembedded reporters and two photographers in the region, including one who is setting up a Baghdad bureau. McMahon said the paper likely will keep at least three or four staffers in Iraq for the next several months. “We want someone in the north, south, and in Baghdad,” he said.

Army Maj. Tim Blair, a Pentagon spokesman, told E&P the program will continue with no cut-off date in sight and no change in the restrictions that forbid embeds from returning to units they leave or switching to other embedded spots. “There are still some media wanting to get into slots,” Blair said, adding that a few new embeds have arrived with fresh troops.

The Christian Science Monitor still has two embedded staffers — a reporter and photographer — but Marshall Ingwerson, Monitor managing editor, said, “I don’t think we will have an embed three weeks from now.” Ingwerson stressed that the paper would keep a handful of correspondents in and around Iraq to cover the next phase. “We will cycle people through in more of a tag team,” he explained.

Financial concerns played a role in The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle‘s decision to bring back embedded reporter Johnny Edwards, who returned April 20. “We had exceeded our budget weeks ago,” Executive Editor Dennis Sodomka said, noting that insurance costs were “sky-high.”

Noelle Phillips, a former embed for the Savannah (Ga.) Morning News, said she and embedded photographer John Carrington returned April 14 after hearing that Carrington’s father became ill. The two were “tired and ready to go” and probably wouldn’t have stayed in Iraq for more than another week, she said.

Editors and military officials said the embedding program had worked well, but the Pentagon’s Blair said discussions eventually will be held between media representatives and military officials to seek changes. Said Blair, “There are definite areas where we can improve.”

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