By: Shawn Moynihan
With deaths and violence on the rise in Iraq, many larger U.S. newspapers continue to provide wide-ranging reports by high-profile reporters and photographers, many of them seasoned foreign correspondents. But below the radar, smaller newspapers are working to provide a more intimate perspective, putting a human face on the men and women serving the United States. To them, these soldiers are quite literally their neighbors ? the sons and daughters of their readership.
Contrary to popular belief, the embed program lives. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told E&P that there are currently 55 embeds in Iraq. The ground rules for embedding are the same as they were during the war, with operational security being the primary issue. For example, embeds cannot report on troop strength of their units or the particulars of a specific mission.
Among the smaller papers with embeds on the ground since February are the Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; The Scranton (Pa.) Times- Tribune; the North County Times in Escondido, Calif.; and the Antelope Valley Press in Palmdale, Calif. They allow those back home a window into the chaotic ? and increasingly dangerous ? world in which U.S. troops are living and working.
Business Reporter Jerry Lynott and Photographer S. John Wilkin of the Times Leader arrived in Iraq in late February, as embeds with the 109th Field Artillery Bravo Battery in Baghdad’s Camp Muleskinner. Lynott returned last month; Times Leader Arts & Community Writer Lane Filler took his place. Wilkin, by his own choice, remains in Iraq.
For the assignment, the Times Leader asked for volunteers. “I put my name in, not knowing what I was getting myself into,” Lynott says. He describes the experience as “worthwhile, unlike anything I’ve ever done. It’s almost like beat reporting … you have to use your skills to get soldiers to open up to you.”
North County Times reporter Darrin Mortenson and photographer Hayne Palmour, who were embedded in Iraq from Feb.-May 2003, returned to the war-torn country March 8, this time with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. “The story of Iraq is North County has gone to war,” says Editor Kent Davy, noting the thousands of Marines from the area who have shipped out. “It’s a local story for us.”
This time around, the pair took backups for all of their communications gear, and special satellite phones. “Making smarter choices on our communications gear has been a big help this time,” Davy says.
Scranton Times-Tribune Reporter/ Columnist Christopher J. Kelly and Photo Director Michael J. Mullen were embedded in Iraq with National Guard troops from the Scranton-based 2nd Battalion, 103rd Armor Regiment. Says Kelly, “We didn’t go to Iraq looking for WMD, we went to tell local stories.”
The situation in Iraq, Kelly says, “is pretty awful, I can tell you that. It’s a situation in which madness becomes commonplace … You get used to [hearing] mortar fire overhead. Abnormal things become normal.”
The increased violence early last month led the Orange County (Calif.) Register to cancel its plan for a reporter and photographer to be embedded with Marines at Camp Pendleton.
But one journalist who would not be deterred was Dennis Anderson, editor of the Antelope Valley Press. Anderson, the only chief editor in the United States to sign on as an embed to cover the Iraq war last year, filed seven stories for the newspaper during his return trip from April 3-14. Once again he was embedded with the 1498th Transportation Company of the California National Guard.