By: David Noack
Planning for the best
Press considers implications of a peace in Kosovo
The move from the battlefield to the negotiating table is placing different demands on newspapers and wire services to keep up with the rapidly changing scene in Yugoslavia.
Bold banner headlines from newspapers across the country proclaimed that peace may be at hand in the Balkans. While diplomacy begins to take center stage, there is a natural tendency for news organizations to shift coverage. But with so many uncertainties regarding peace, many newspapers used question marks in their headlines about a possible end to the fighting.
The Boston Globe announced, “Bombs Still Fall As NATO Awaits Proof Of Compliance;” The Dallas Morning News blared, “Milosevic, Serbs Agree To Terms For Ending War;” and the Orlando Sentinel displayed, “Cautious Clinton Welcomes Kosovo Pact.”
But questions remain, such as what kind of a peacekeeping force should go into Kosovo to ensure the safe return of the refugees, who will be in charge of the force, and how many American soldiers will be involved. Stories following any peace accord will include the resettlement of the war-ravaged country and a massive reconstruction effort.
Matt Storin, editor of the Globe, says his first priority is to get a reporter into Kosovo. “We have a former foreign correspondent, now in Metro, Charles Radin, in Croatia at the moment but [he’s] easily moveable for that task. We also moved Susan Milligan from Budapest [Hungary] back to Albania where she had previously reported on the refugees. So one of those two is most likely to go in,” says Storin.
Right after the conflict broke out in March, Western journalists were ordered to leave Yugoslavia. Some were able to get back in, and have been reporting from Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital, but only a handful have been in Kosovo. Instead, news organizations have stationed personnel in countries surrounding the southern part of Yugoslavia, reporting on the atrocities described by refugees fleeing Kosovo.
Storin says that London bureau chief Kevin Cullen will remain in Belgrade for the moment, but will soon leave for family reasons. Storin is concerned about obtaining another visa to get into the country.
“Overall, a lot of the coverage probably shifts back to Washington and the U.N. Our lead reporter in D.C. on these issues is Anne Kornblut who also reported from Albania for a while. She normally covers [the U.S.] Congress. Our State Department slot is vacant at the moment, so Anne is filling in,” explains Storin.
AP’s top spokesperson Tori Smith, says the possibility of peace will not alter coverage that much.
“We anticipate that our staff covering the conflict won’t change greatly, although some of that will depend on the success of the agreement,” Smith says. “We’ve been doing a lot of analysis and diplomatic reporting of late, and we would expect that to increase as the agreement is implemented.
“We’ll be watching closely how the agreement plays out on the ground and we may need to step up our staffing ? again.”
Simon K.C. Li, foreign editor at the Los Angeles Times, says that, in the short term, coverage will remain the same, reporting on all aspects of the story from refugees to resettlement to rebuilding.
“It’s still a big story. There are so many refugees; we still have their fates to follow. We will have to see, for quite a while yet, the consequences of the bombing,” says Li. He says that with Slobodan Milosevic still in power in Belgrade there is always the potential for more difficulties, even with a peace agreement in hand.
“I think that for the immediate future there won’t be much changes, except, I hope, it means greater access into Kosovo and Serbia,” says Li, who has six reporters in the region. Their coverage is bolstered by reporters at the White House, Pentagon, and State Department.
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