Magazine article Editor & Publisher

To Russia with Love

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

To Russia with Love

Article excerpt

When McClatchy's Tom Lasseter, who had been honored for his reporting in Iraq, spent most of December 2006 in Lebanon covering the Shiite-Sunni street violence there, one of his top competitors was Megan Stack of the Los Angeles Times. She had been in Beirut weeks longer, knew the area better, had drawn wide praise for her coverage of last summer's Hezbollah/Israeli war -- and happened to be staying in the next room at the Intercontinental Hotel. "She did terrific work in Lebanon all last year," Lasseter recalls. "So there was no way I could match that in one month. Her reporting was further along."

Stack also happens to be Lasseter's girlfriend.

That made for some interesting run-ins as the duo, friends for nearly three years at the time and a couple for just less than a year, juggled nightly dinners with rival newsgathering during the day. "It was kind of fun," Stack, 31, recalls. "It was nice he was right next door because when you are not together and you get done with work, you get lonesome."

Lasseter, also 31, agrees, but notes they took separate rooms at the Beirut hotel: "You don't want to be working in the same room, making work calls next to each other."

During that month in Lebanon, the couple mixed romantic moments over hot chocolate at the Paul Cafe with covering street battles just outside their hotel. "I would try to get a glimpse of Tom while the military was shooting and lobbing bottles and rocks," says Stack. "I would worry about myself, and worry about where he is."

Such is life in the world of foreign news coverage and combat reporting, which can do as much to bring two people together as they can to tear them apart. For Stack and Lasseter, who hooked up romantically in February 2006, their courtship has had to survive more than the usual stress. As veteran overseas reporters who have covered some of the most dangerous beats during the past few years, they spent months apart with just a text-messaging link, watched the breakup of a marriage (hers) and an engagement (his), and found ways to steal moments together when they are in the same place, often between deadline demands -- and explosions.

Happy times have been shared, too, such as when each won an Overseas Press Club award -- one year apart -- for best foreign reporting.

Think When Harry Met Sally meets Platoon, and you'll have their lives for the past three-and-a-half years. Stack and Lasseter seem to be surviving modern romance and the life-and-death perils of wartime reporting. "They have been great together, wonderful to watch," says Nancy Youssef, a former McClatchy Baghdad bureau chief who worked with Lasseter there from 2003 to 2005. "It was never too cutesy, it was nice and natural."

In the latest chapter, however, the couple appear to be putting some order into a relationship that has found them more apart than together. In early June, the reporters assumed new jobs in their news outlets' Moscow bureaus, giving them their first shared residence and first permanent assignments in the same city. "We wanted to get out somewhere where bombs are not falling," Lasseter quips by phone in late May as he packed up belongings from a storage shed for the overseas transfer.

But will a romance that survived thousands of miles of distance, war-torn neighborhoods from Fallujah to Beirut, and even the curiousity of other reporters, continue in the Kremlin? This may not be John Reed and Louise Bryant in Reds, but if they're lucky it will have a happier ending.

When Tom met Megan

Each recalls the first meeting clearly: in February 2004 at a shuttle bus stop in Baghdad, awaiting a ride to the airport for a flight to Amman, Jordan. Lasseter, then a Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader reporter on temporary Iraq duty, was finishing a three-month stint there and heading back to his home town of Atlanta for time off. Stack, a Times reporter since 2001, was based in Cairo but had hopscotched the Middle East for several years. …

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