Getting the story vs. staying alive

A friend and journalist colleague who served briefly in the late 1980s in Latin America regaled me once with tales of the correspondent's life.

In between wars, coup attempts, and gas shortages, he played tennis and gossiped with other reporters. He talked about the clubby camaraderie of the foreign press corps and described exotic places. Those of us who heard him were thinking, "Hey, where can I sign up?"

The glamour and mystique that surrounds foreign reporting has been enhanced by the pop culture image of a globetrotting reporter.

These days, however, foreign correspondents are more likely to be stationed in other hot spots, such as Iraq or Afghanistan. Plenty in the way of exotic locales, but hardly on anyone's list of vacation spots.

Recently, I spoke with another colleague about his experience covering the Philippines, where popular revolt brought down dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. On his return to the US after Corazon Aquino restored democracy, the reporter gave a talk to the newsroom. As a young journalist in the audience, I thrilled to his description of history being made.

Now, years later, he shakes his head at the risks he took. He adds that, in a war zone, each reporter has to weigh the value of the story against the risk in reporting it.

That dilemma will likely be confronted many times in the coming weeks (see story, right).

What motivates war correspondents is not just the opportunity to witness history, but also a desire to explain to readers why they should care.

Those of us at home have renewed respect for the dangers these reporters face, as they attempt to bring home the meaning of these conflicts and still make it home.

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