Magazine article The New Yorker

BAGHDAD TO SWARTHMORE; COLLEGE TRY Series: 2/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

BAGHDAD TO SWARTHMORE; COLLEGE TRY Series: 2/5

Article excerpt

A group of enterprising students at Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania, has some advice for the politically disaffected: If you find the media's Iraq coverage unsatisfactory, pick up the phone. Don't call the Times, or CNN, or Rupert Murdoch; call Baghdad. There are a couple of Iraqi phone books available on the Internet, and plenty of interesting people willing to share their stories directly, from six thousand miles away, many of them speaking decent English. When your phone bill starts to get out of hand, try downloading Skype, software that allows two people to talk free, from anywhere in the world, using computer microphones and a headset.

Amelia Templeton, a senior history major, estimates that she has spoken with twenty-five Iraqis over the past year, and now, as she said the other day, "it's a bad idea to ask me about Iraq unless you plan on listening for a while." One of the Iraqis she spoke with, a painter named Esam Pasha, who is a grandson of the former Prime Minister Nuri al-Said, has even invited her to visit Baghdad. "I was told that if I came he'd pick me up at the airport," she said. "Given what that road is like, how dangerous it is going to and from the airport, that's quite an offer."

Templeton is one of the editors at War News Radio, a weekly half-hour show broadcast on the Swarthmore campus station, and podcast over the Web, where it draws as many as three thousand listeners a day. The show's stated aim is to "rediscover the voices of real people" in Iraq. It is supervised by Marty Goldensohn, a thirty-year veteran of public radio, who offered the students this essential kernel of advice: "Mumble with authority." He also said, "When you call the Pentagon, you just say, as if you were the New York Times, 'I'm calling from War News Radio.' You say it as if it were their failing if they haven't heard of us."

The students began, two semesters ago, by creating a homemade sound studio, using bulletin boards and egg cartons hung from ceiling pipes. Now, thanks to the college, they've got proper acoustic tiling, although space heaters are still required to supplement the building's old radiator, and the reporters sometimes wear ski jackets and hats while manning the phones. They have secured interviews, in recent weeks, with the C.E.O. of the new Iraqi Stock Exchange, an aspiring filmmaker in Baghdad, and the Sunni politician Adnan Pachachi. In one broadcast, an Iraqi doctor, referring to the mood at the checkpoints, said, "Everybody feels terrified; everything around is horrible, and you expect that you may be killed at any minute. …

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