It's been a full month since we've made use of our handy weblog software. We can partly blame the Upstate New York heat, since for the past month the average temperature has been in the high 80s F, with our typical wet-sponge humidity. Makes it difficult to do anything after working a full day on editing, secretarial tasks, emailing with readers and toiling away at the code that runs our site.
But we have been blessed with a reprieve from the heat, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to update everyone on what's happening, including an update on our impending coverage from Iraq.
As our members learned last week in the July NewStandard NewsLetter (pasted below), photojournalist Jon Elmer is on his way to Iraq for several weeks of what we hope will pan out to be intensive corresponding for The NewStandard. Jon is currently in Amman, Jordan with his interpreter, fellow Canadian Tarek Lubani, fingers crossed, hoping his visa will come in.
Jon told us yesterday that he was told by an Iraqi embassy oficial there -- and he quoted -- a visa could take "one day, two days, three days, four days, one week, maybe one month" to come through. The official preempted any concerns that he was being kept out because he works for a real news organization by assuring Jon that a 9-member Fox News crew recently waited 3 weeks for visas.
Jon plans to stay in Iraq about six weeks if he finds that he can report effectively from there. After Jon leaves Iraq, he will head straight to Palestine, where he will cover the planned removal of the Gaza settlements starting in late August, marking the (re)expansion of TNS coverage into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
I am hoping to cajole Jon into contributing a few posts to the Middle East Blog, though he has said he prefers to write hard news instead of more personal reports. What we can count on, at least, is a lot of excellent photography throughout his trip. Jon is an extremely talented shooter.
We're presently putting the final touches on new photo essay and photo gallery facilities that will allow Jon to upload pictures in groups or series on a regular basis.
For further (less recent updates) and an interview with Jon, see this months NewsLetter pasted below. We have occasionally sent this out to Basic Members (sign up here for free), but if you want to receive all of the extras we produce, Basic Members will need to upgrade to Premium Membership.
- Welcome to TNS's New Briefwriter, Brendan Coyne
- The NewStandard Returns to Iraq
- Interview with Mideast-bound TNS Correspondent Jon Elmer
- Doing the Rounds: Connecting with Readers and Allies
Welcome to the second edition of the NewStandard NewsLetter. We have some very exciting announcements in this issue. There have been a few changes on the site, as you have probably noticed. The daily photo has returned, and our news briefs have migrated to the left hand column of the homepage.
Thanks to the generous support of our readers, we are slowly building our capacity to publish more content every day. We have been able to offer a few of our freelance journalists more secure full-and part time positions, and we are looking forward to continuing to bring on more staff as our budget permits.
The latest addition to our staff is Brendan Coyne, who began working with TNS about a year ago, and who has since reported on a broad range of topics, usually in the form of full-length features and articles. Brendan also traveled as a TNS correspondent to the demonstrations surrounding the Republican National Convention and the Presidential Inauguration last year, working as a crucial member of both of our reporting teams at those events.
Now that Brendan has joined our staff working part time as the main news brief writer, we have come to appreciate his journalistic abilities even more. We've always known that the popular items we refer to as "news briefs" play an important role in our ability to comprehensively cover current events and issues within our present scope of coverage. Brendan has brought new energy to the briefs. As a rigorous news hound and a meticulous researcher, he pulls information from an incredible array of source material to provide TNS readers with a unique perspective on daily events.
We're sure that if you read Brendan's daily briefs closely, you will see the difference between what he produces and what everybody else refers to as a "news brief." We could go on and on, but Brendan's work speaks for itself, and we are very glad to have him aboard.
As many of our readers know, last year The NewStandard sent an up-and-coming journalist to Iraq for three months. His name was Dahr Jamail, and the work he produced for TNS has been widely acclaimed. While working with The NewStandard, Dahr focused on important stories: about failed and nonexistent reconstruction, US military offensives, torture and abuse in American facilities, and -- perhaps most of all -- everyday life for Iraqis. Those stories touched our readers deeply.
The NewStandard and the readers who donated to fund Dahr's expenses while reporting from Iraq took a chance on Dahr when he was a little-known writer. Since then, he has since gone on to write for The Nation, the London Times and the Guardian, Asia Times and numerous other publications, and we are proud to have been part of his beginning.
Now, we are pleased to announce that, after a year without having regular eyes and ears on the ground in Iraq, another NewStandard reporter is headed to Baghdad.
Jon Elmer is a Canadian photojournalist who contributes to The NewStandard's Iraq in Crisis section. He also helped launch the website FromOccupiedPalestine.org, an online journal that carries frontline reporting and photography from Palestine and Israel. Based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Jon will soon be traveling to the Middle East again -- this time traveling to Iraq first -- and providing exclusive coverage for TNS. Jon hopes, with our help, to report from Iraq through July and most of August. He then plans to travel to the Gaza Strip to cover the planned pullout of Israeli settlements from Palestinian territory.
Jon will stay in Iraq as long as he is able to effectively report from there. If for any reason his job is rendered impossible to do right, rather than engage in "hotel journalism," "embedded reporting," or press conference stenography, Jon will avoid sinking to such unethical depths and will instead travel early to Israel and Palestine to report from the Occupied Territories, where he has more substantial experience as a correspondent.
Yes, this means TNS's coverage of the Middle East will finally expand, at least temporarily, to include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as so many of our readers have requested. To the best of our ability, with Jon Elmer as our point person in the field, TNS will investigate the many current developments in that region. We also hope to bring back some journalists living in Palestine and Israel with whom we have worked in the past to add more depth to our coverage from that part of the world.
It was NewStandard readers who made Dahr Jamail's mid-2004 trip to Iraq possible by generously donating to support his efforts. This time, as the security situation has deteriorated more and on-the-ground reporters have become extremely scarce, we will be calling on our readers for much more than financial help. In the next week or so, as Jon's plans solidify and we have a better understanding of what he will need from us, we will convey to you, our members, how best to support Jon's work, knowing full well that you will come through once again.
June 23, 2005
He recently took time out of his preparations to participate in an interview with TNS staff reporter Chris Shumway.
TNS: You've worked for The NewStandard and other independent media outlets as a both a reporter and photojournalist. What drew you to journalism in general and, more specifically, to TNS?
JE: To my mind, every war of occupation is inextricably connected to a war of information, which attempts to obfuscate and shape people's understanding of the reality and consequences on the ground. Journalism, in the broadest sense -- be it "hard news," photography, essay or blog -- is the frontline of this war.
I come at this type of work with the intention of making a modest contribution to providing people with the tools to meaningfully interpret the current situation and act accordingly. I appreciate The NewStandard's independence, accuracy and integrity to this end.
TNS: You'll soon be traveling to Iraq and Palestine. How long do you expect to be there, and what motivates you to travel to these areas?
JE: I don't think I am motivated by any extraordinary forces; I don't propose to reinvent the wheel. My hope is only to work in the spirit of what principled writers and journalists have always done: on-the-ground information gathering -- no embedding, no staged photographs, no press conferences.
I am motivated by the desire to animate life in occupied Iraq and Israel/Palestine, where the current crises are not an abstraction.
I plan to spend the next six months between Iraq and Palestine. Writing and photographing from the frontlines is something I have done for several years, and plan to continue for some time.
TNS: You were in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the fall of 2003, interviewing numerous Palestinians and Israelis for the web site FromOccupiedPalestine.org. What stands out most from that trip? Was there a particular story or event that surprised you?
JE: Honestly, the three-tiered journalists' gallery at [Yassar] Arafat's compound in Ramallah where dozens of international journalists were stationed awaiting a soundbite or an image of Arafat addressing the audience was something I will never forget. This is in an area where compelling "news" is being made at every moment.
Over the three months that I lived in Palestine, only on the rarest of occasions did I run into a North American journalist in the refugee camps of Gaza and the West Bank, where incursions and curfews told the story of life under occupation in such stark relief. It seemed to me that instead, most North American correspondents somehow managed to file their stories from hotels in Jerusalem or on brief day-trips to secure a more appropriate dateline.
That was what struck me the most: the disjuncture between what is happening on the ground and what fills the column inches in the overwhelming majority of North American press.
It is also worth noting that Palestinian and Israeli journalists are covering the situation intimately, under conditions that are significantly more dangerous than those faced by foreign press.
TNS: Given the horrendous security conditions in Iraq, and considering the violence directed at journalists, what precautions will you take while traveling the country?
JE: It has to be said that it is much more dangerous to be a so-called ordinary Iraqi or Palestinian than it is to be a Canadian dropped into the situation with resources, credentials and a certain amount of privilege.
In terms of precautions, I don't have any immunity from the violence that faces Iraqis each day, or that has claimed the lives of journalists such as Mazen Dana [Palestinian television cameraman killed by US troops in Iraq], who are far more experienced than me. I will travel humbly and deferentially, amongst Iraqis -- not armed or in armor. I will not, for instance, travel with a bevy of armed guards in a bulletproof SUV, or in an American armored convoy. I will distance myself from the machinery of occupation, which makes up the bulk of the targets.
Still, I trust few would take me seriously if I said that I was without apprehension. To that end, if working with a reasonable degree of safety is impossible, I will leave the country with the full support of TNS editorial staff. This is the ultimate of my privileges.
TNS: I imagine there are also cultural differences and language barriers that must be overcome. Are there any special measures you take to minimize misunderstandings or clarify meaning when gathering information and conducting interviews?
JE: I unfortunately don't speak Arabic, though even journalists who know the language most often work with a "fixer" -- someone who knows the terrain intimately and can help you navigate it.
Fixers are certainly not the final arbiter, and I most often record my interviewees in Arabic to ensure accuracy in messaging. We will have the original recordings and therefore the option of using professional translation, or getting second or third opinions on the usage, grammar, etc... rather than trusting a fixer to be, as I said, the final arbiter.
I tend to be deeply skeptical of translations and professional fixers, and so I try to mitigate those circumstances. Whenever possible I get translations verified on more than one level.
As for TNS, we will be working with locals in Iraq, though exactly who is yet to be determined. I think it sufficient to acknowledge that I will work with fixers, but will do so with independence.
TNS: What types of stories do you hope to pursue in Iraq and Israel/Palestine?
JE: I will do my best to provide an understanding and tell the stories of everyday life under occupation for Iraqis and Palestinians. I am not going into either country with a prearranged docket of stories, but rather will focus on what is relevant once I have navigated the situation firsthand.
As busy as we are in our daily capacities as editors, website administrators and organization managers, it can be easy to forget that a big part of producing a publication is getting out and meeting your readership and your colleagues face-to-face. We are making a concerted effort to "get out" more often. Toward this end, we set up and staffed a display table at two progressive media gatherings so far this year: the National Conference on Media Reform, which was held in St. Louis in May; and the Allied Media Conference in Bowling Green, Ohio, held last weekend. Both events were well-attended and offered countless opportunities for us to share our aims and ideas with people who value independent media. We also got to meet many of our readers face-to-face, and to hear first hand their impressions, suggestions, criticisms and encouragement.
TNS co-founders Jessica Azulay and Brian Dominick also spent a week in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, teaching at the Z Media Institute. As rigorous as the daily schedule at ZMI was, that stay provided us the opportunity to engage in longer conversations with other media professionals about the relevance and direction of our work. Some of the classes we taught at ZMI were specifically purposed to provide initial training in independent reporting and to help other media activists envision and begin creating their own independent publishing organizations. We were so honored to be given the opportunity to share some of the lessons we have learned over the last few years as journalists, editors and co-founders of TNS.
In all instances, it has been remarkably refreshing to receive such animated responses to our special approach to public interest news journalism. And we always make terrific contacts with people who become devoted future readers, donors and reporters, and media allies helping TNS achieve its expanding potential.
So to all of those we've met recently at these various affairs, thanks for the great conversation, generous praise and critical feedback. Knowing that we are making a difference in how so many people learn about society and the world is a tremendous reward for our work.