War and Terror

In Nieman Reports’s continuing effort to chronicle the various ways in which journalists are approaching coverage of war and terror, John Koopman, a features writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, describes how, when he returned home with reporting he did while embedded with a Marine regiment in Iraq, his notebooks were transformed into a thematic narrative series at the behest and with the help of his editors. “Without consciously trying to do it, I’d written in a rhythm,” Koopman says of the 27,000-word story he produced. “Events built up to a climax, or a conclusion, sometimes with a resolution. And that’s one of the things that made the series work. It was more than just one long story. Every installment brought something new and ended in a rousing fashion. Some more than others. But it kept readers coming back for more.”

Rick Rodriguez, executive editor of The Sacramento Bee, explains why his newspaper decided to allocate its resources in a different way during the war in Iraq. Rather than embedding its reporters with the military, the paper published stories and photographs from other McClatchy papers and wire services. He shares why he made this decision and describes the series, “Liberty in the Balance,” that resulted from it. “Instead of incurring the large cost of covering the war, I wanted to concentrate our newsroom’s limited resources and time on a story of major national import that I thought wasn’t receiving the kind of scrutiny it deserved: the increasing controversy surrounding the USA Patriot Act, which Congress passed in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks,” he writes.

In Canada, the home and bureau office of Juliet O’Neill, a reporter at the Ottawa Citizen, were searched by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police after she used secret documents in reporting a story about a Syrian-born Canadian citizen who was arrested in the United States as a suspected al-Qaeda terrorist. In her published account of this five-hour search, “It Felt Like Slow-Motion Robbery,” which first appeared in the Citizen, she writes: “The material they carted away from my home and office are the tools of my trade: names, phone numbers, written and recorded notes. It left me feeling stripped.”

From Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist Doug Marlette’s book, “What Would Marlette Drive?: The Scandalous Cartoons of Doug Marlette,” come words from an essay he wrote in response to criticism he received about a controversial cartoon published in his paper, the Tallahassee Democrat, and reprinted in many others. Thousands of readers demanded an apology. Instead, Marlette explained why he wouldn’t. “In this country, we do not apologize for our opinion. Free speech is the linchpin of our republic. All other freedoms flow from it. After all, we don’t need a First Amendment to allow us to run boring, inoffensive cartoons…. We need constitutional protection for our right to express unpopular views. If we can’t discuss the great issues of our day in the pages of our newspaper, fearlessly and without apology, where can we discuss them?”

Michael Persson, a freelance writer and photographer, writes about “War,” a photo-documentary book that begins at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001 and ends 414 pages later with an image of a boy on a rooftop in Iraq. It is the collection’s impartiality that Persson admires most. He observes that the book is “hard-hitting, but impartiality always is. Through the images captured by VII, a photo agency renowned for its collection of veteran photographers, ‘War’ brings to our attention every vivid detail, whether we like it or not.”


Steve Oney, a former reporter at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and author of “And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank,” describes how newspapers published increasingly sensational stories, headlines and commentary about this early 20th century murder trial and lynching. While local papers used their coverage to compete for readers, The New York Times used its editorial power to argue the view that “Frank was not only innocent but the victim of an anti-Semitic plot ….” But Times’s publisher Adolph Ochs soon found out that his paper’s advocacy was regarded by many in Georgia as intervention as it was denounced. In the press’s treatment of this story, Oney finds “the prototypic American convergence of journalistic excess and legal tragedy.”

In reflecting on Ken Auletta’s book, “Backstory: Inside the Business of News,” Everette E. Dennis, who is Felix E. Larkin distinguished professor of communications and media management at Fordham Graduate School of Business, compliments the author on his keen understanding of the business of news. Dennis goes on to explore how journalists’ usual aversion to “structural or stylistic change” might affect their ability to respond and react to rapid business changes. “Sorting out the role of the individual journalist in the midst of these seismic changes in the structure and ownership of the business warrants deep thinking,” he writes, “and Auletta facilitates that process.”

“‘City Room’ is an easy read,” writes Robert H. Phelps, a retired editor of Nieman Reports, about The New York Times’s former managing editor Arthur Gelb’s recent book. “Anecdotes tumble over each other in the style now called narrative journalism ….” In his review, Phelps, who worked briefly for Gelb on the Times’s metropolitan desk, shares newsroom stories from the book, including ones Gelb tells about some of the more difficult times he had with Scotty Reston, Max Frankel, and Abe Rosenthal.

In the wake of Columbia University’s recent task force discussions about the future of its journalism school, Jeffrey Scheuer, author of “The Sound Bite Society: How Television Helps the Right and Hurts the Left,” reviews James Boylan’s book, “Pulitzer’s School: Columbia University’s School of Journalism, 1903-2003,” with an eye toward connecting the school’s history to its present circumstance. A century after Joseph Pulitzer set forth his idea of establishing a school of journalism that, as Scheuer writes, “might elevate journalism to the status of professions such as business and law,” this vision might finally be realized as the school’s new leadership “will attempt, where so many have failed, to bring scholarship and journalism together for the public good.”

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