Newspapers Set Up Temporary Baghdad Bureaus

By: Rafe Bartholomew

For many papers, the next step in covering Persian Gulf War II is establishing temporary bureaus in Baghdad. In an E&P survey of news executives at six major dailies and two companies that own multiple papers, all of them said they planned on maintaining a significant presence in Iraq after the war ends.

The two news organizations — Knight Ridder and Cox Newspapers — as well as USA Today and The Boston Globe began setting up Baghdad bureaus late last week by moving unilateral journalists into the city.

Joking, Boston Globe Foreign Editor Jim Smith described the paper’s current Baghdad bureau and its staff of one: “It’s him, a laptop, and a satellite phone working out of a bombed-out shell of a building.”

Los Angeles Times Foreign Editor Marjorie Miller said her paper has had a “bureau” in Baghdad for about a month — mainly, reporter John Daniszewski — and that the Times was sending more non-embedded journalists to the scene. “We’re definitely conducting our own little regime change,” said Miller of the newspaper’s effort to bring in non-embedded reporters.

Covering postwar Iraq and the country’s reconstruction is a priority for all these news organizations. “The aim is to cover the postwar about as enthusiastically as we covered the war,” said John Walcott, Washington bureau chief for Knight Ridder Newspapers.

Editors at the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune and The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., said they weren’t sure yet if their papers would establish all-out bureaus but insisted that their presence in the region would not diminish.

Knight Ridder’s Walcott said embeds aren’t completely out of the picture, adding that four fresh Knight Ridder reporters arrived in Iraq embedded with the 4th Infantry Division on April 10. Still, Walcott admitted that he expected the number of embedded reporters to decline while the corps of unilaterals grows.

The changing of the guard between embedded and non-embedded reporters has been slow going. Figuring out the logistics of rotating tired reporters out of Baghdad and getting fresh ones into the capital has been difficult, said Chuck Holmes, foreign news editor at Cox Newspapers’ Washington bureau. The accessibility of bridges leading out of the city is always in question, said Holmes, as is the opportunity for journalists to hitch rides out of the country on U.S. military aircraft. And roads between the Iraqi/Jordanian border and Baghdad are dangerous (Knight Ridder’s Walcott heard of journalists being shot at while traveling these routes).

Editors’ actual plans for Baghdad bureaus were vague. The first step, most editors agreed, was getting a group of unilateral reporters together in the capital. Everything else would be played by ear. “Right now [reporters] are just staying where they can and going where it’s safe,” said Walcott. He added that if the situation became more secure, Knight Ridder would consider a more permanent arrangement — such as renting a house in Baghdad to use as a bureau.

The Globe will be following the story there at least until the end of this year, said Smith. Whether or not reporters will be working out of bombed-out buildings or Baghdad townhouses remains to be seen.

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