Reporting the Middle East brings about a unique set of logistical and cultural challenges. The panel, organized by the Pulitzer Center as part of its 10th anniversary celebration and moderated by its Senior Editor Tom Hundley, sought to demystify some of these challenges.
The panel included Jake Silverstein, editor of The New York Times Magazine, multimedia journalist Ben Solomon, and author Scott Anderson, all who worked on the landmark reporting project, "Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart." They were joined by Yochi Dreazen, deputy managing editor and foreign editor at Vox, and Robin Shulman, a freelance reporter for The Washington Post. Collectively, this group of veteran reporters and editors had decades of experience in reporting in and on the Middle East. They spoke to a full conference room at the National Press Club on October 8, 2016, with over 50 people in attendance.
Silverstein, Anderson, and Solomon focused on their learnings gained from working on the groundbreaking "Fractured Lands" project, which was supported by one of the largest grants ever made by the Pulitzer Center. Silverstein believes Anderson's 42,000-word article in the magazine to be the longest piece ever ran by The New York Times.
Recounting a moment while in Kurdistan last year interviewing former ISIS fighters, Anderson spoke of one of the main lessons learned while he reported from the Middle East, “Unlike what you might read, ISIS is not a monolithic fighting group. I’d say up to 80 percent of ISIS fighters are doing it because there is nothing else to do and ISIS offers them fraternity, belonging, and money.”
In response to question about the editor's role in journalism, Dreazen, now an editor whose first reporting job was for the Wall Street Journal, outlined three ways in which foreign reporting has changed since he was first out in the field:
-Foreign news is now a first gloss of the facts and is often wrong as time develops.
-Information flowing to editors and reporters is now informed by social media, so it’s much more difficult to sort out fact from falsehood.
-The ability of an editor to choose which medium (photo, video, or written word) to show what’s happening in foreign stories has been enabled by technology, giving the an editor more choice but also bringing up new challenges in getting the news to readers.
As the session came to a close, Shulman discussed her reporting project on Syrian refugees in Canada, placing it in wider context of what it means to report on these type of stories. “The role of a journalist is to try and create a vision and room for a different sort of conversation, especially when it is least possible. It’s been amazing to see that happen since my story came out, and I’m so grateful to the Pulitzer center for being able to give me the support to do stories like these,” she said.