Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Press Retreats as Iraqi Conflict Heats Up Again

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Press Retreats as Iraqi Conflict Heats Up Again

Article excerpt

Despite budget and vacation woes, some feel editors need to send in new brigade of reporters

The ongoing violence and resistance in Iraq has forced military leaders -- and newspaper editors -- to reassess their postwar plans. Journalists in Iraq who expected to spend most of their time covering reconstruction and the creation of a new government now must also cover the daily violence that has killed more than 30 U.S. soldiers (and at least one reporter) since the war's end and sparked renewed concerns about their own safety.

At the same time, the number of reporters in the postwar zone has plunged just as fears rise that the U.S. may be slipping into a costly, drawn-out, guerrilla conflict. While military experts debate whether there are enough troops on the ground, others wonder if there are enough reporters in-country at this critical moment.

Most editors, who said they nearly broke the bank to staff Iraq coverage during the war, find that budget constraints -- and summer vacation schedules -- have limited their resources for postwar stories. The need to cover other foreign hot spots, such as Liberia, Israel, and North Korea, allows fewer people for Iraq. And the Pentagon's "embed" program is now down to 23 reporters, from a high of more than 700 during the war.

"We have other priorities and there is a need for people to have time off," said Tim Connolly, international news editor for The Dallas Morning News. The paper had as many as five reporters in Iraq during the war but now has none. "We feel like we are well served by wire services," he explained.

Chuck Holmes, foreign editor of Cox Newspapers, who has only one person in Iraq, compared to the six his chain sent at wartime, said, "We are still examining what we spent on the war and what our budget constraints are."

The Christian Science Monitor also has only one reporter in Iraq, due in part to a staffing shortage brought on by summer time off. "So much was done during the war that people are exhausted and need to spend time with families," said Dave Scott, the Monitor's international news editor.

The Chicago Tribune has three reporters in Iraq, and Newsday of Melville, N.Y., has two, down from 12. "Time off has been an issue," said Bill Spindle, The Wall Street Journal's middle east editor, citing the example of one reporter, Farnaz Fassihi, who recently took vacation time after spending four months in the war region.

David Hoffman, foreign editor at The Washington Post, which has four people in Iraq (down from more than 20 in the region) explained, "I can't empty the rest of the world to cover one place. …

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