Wire Services Deploy Their Own Troops

By: Dave Astor

They’re trained, armed (with communications and safety equipment), and massed at Iraq’s border. But wire-service-distributed journalists won’t kill anyone. Instead, they’ll make sure even the smallest newspapers get firsthand coverage if the United States goes to war.

“Few newspapers have the resources to cover something like this on their own,” says Peter Copeland, editor and general manager of Scripps Howard News Service (SHNS).

One wire is even offering art from the front, via Richard Johnson of the Detroit Free Press. “There’s going to be a ton of photographs, so illustrations will be another way of telling the story,” says Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services (KRT) Editor Jane Scholz.

Wire services are already using the Web to provide clients with material. For instance, KRT offers more than 1,600 photos, graphics, and other Iraq-related visuals through its site — and has seen an increase in one-shot sales to newspapers that don’t subscribe to KRT.

The Associated Press now has more than 40 reporters, photographers, and TV people in the Iraq region. How many more if there’s a war? “It depends on how much access there is, how long the conflict lasts, and the aftermath,” replies Thomas Kent, a deputy managing editor at AP, which goes to 1,700 U.S. papers.

Reuters has about a dozen people in Baghdad and another dozen elsewhere in Iraq. If war breaks out, Reuters would have about 90 reporters, photographers, and film-crew people in and around Iraq, according to Michael Stott, the wire’s London-based editor for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

The New York Times News Service would distribute war coverage by a large contingent of staffers from The New York Times and the news service’s partner papers. Laurence M. Paul, executive editor of the news service and New York Times Syndicate, adds that the syndicate would offer special war-related content — including articles by famous writers.

The Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service would distribute war coverage from as many as 60 reporters and photographers from the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and other contributing papers, according to Kate Carlisle, LAT-WP managing editor for Washington.

KRT would distribute the work of about 75 reporters and photographers if there’s a war. About half would be from Knight Ridder papers and half from other KRT contributors such as the Chicago Tribune and The Dallas Morning News. Scholz says about 30 of the 75 are already in the Iraq region.

SHNS would distribute war stories and pictures by seven journalists who work for either the news service itself or an E.W. Scripps Co. paper. It also would offer Iraq coverage from papers that contribute to SHNS from outside the Scripps chain. Copeland says a reporter and photographer are now providing material from Kuwait for print newspapers, online newspapers, and Scripps-owned TV stations.

Meanwhile, wires are making homefront plans. “We’ll be all-hands-on-deck here in the event of a war,” says Carlisle, noting that editors would “staff the desk almost around the clock” rather than the 16 or so hours a day in normal times.

Wires expect to cover the war’s aftermath — including a possible U.S. occupation of Iraq — with an on-site level of staffing that may be reduced but not eliminated. “We won’t pack up and disappear when the war is over,” says Stott of Reuters.

Kent adds that AP will stick with Iraq just as it has stuck with Afghanistan. “We’re still well-staffed in Afghanistan,” he reports, “even though that story hasn’t gotten as much attention in newspapers as it used to.”

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