College radio reporters bring war home – from 6,000 miles away
By Kathy Matheson
February 7, 2006
SWARTHMORE, Pa. â€“ College radio reporter Amelia Templeton heard the gunshots from halfway around the world, and the sound still startled her.
In a way, that was the point. Her telephone interview with an Iraqi citizen was meant to bring the conflict home to Americans.
For the past year or so, Templeton has been part of a small band of Swarthmore College students broadcasting â€œWar News Radioâ€ on the Internet and their campus radio station.
The weekly half-hour program is designed to go beyond the daily car bombings to examine the war more thoughtfully. It has generated so much interest that several public radio stations across the country have started carrying it.
â€œIt’s sort of an exciting time for us,â€ said the show’s executive producer, Marty Goldensohn, a journalist for public radio programs including â€œMarketplace.â€
â€œMy hope is to have 50 stations soon.â€
Never heard of the show? That’s your problem. At least that’s the attitude Goldensohn tells his reporters to affect when calling potential sources. The approach seems to be working: â€œWar News Radioâ€ has landed some impressive interviews, including Sunni politician Adnan Pachachi and the chief executive of the Iraqi Stock Exchange.
The show also strives to give a voice to ordinary Iraqis, such as an aspiring Baghdad filmmaker and a university professor. Other segments feature U.S. reporters, historians and religion experts.
â€œI’ve always taken this really seriously,â€ said Templeton, a 21-year-old senior from Portland, Ore. â€œWe’ve earned some credibility and respect.â€
Goldensohn is particularly proud of a piece that reporter Tev Kelman did on U.S. checkpoints in Iraq. It was told through the eyes of a U.S. soldier asked to guard them, and from the viewpoint of a father whose daughter was killed at one.
â€œThat’s what we call real balance,â€ said Goldensohn, emphasizing that the program is not anti-war.
â€œWar News Radioâ€ was an idea hatched by David Gelber, a 1963 Swarthmore graduate and producer for TV’s â€œ60 Minutes.â€
The concept found a strong foothold at the college, a small liberal arts school in suburban Philadelphia with a reputation for social activism.
The first shows were broadcast about a year ago over the Internet. While that was limiting in some ways, it also gave â€œWar News Radioâ€ a global reach.
It is available at www.warnewsradio.org.
Starting this week, the show will be heard in Hattiesburg, Miss., on WUSM-FM, one of about a dozen stations expected to air it in the coming months.
WUSM General Manager Mik Davis said the program is â€œvery well put togetherâ€ and is a natural fit for the station, situated on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi and near the military’s Camp Shelby.
It has been picked up by a station in Australia and another in Italy, and added to a student operation at Carleton College in Minnesota.
The Swarthmore students who produce the program do not do any reporting from Iraq itself. They reach their sources in Iraq via Internet phone or conventional telephone, often tracking down ordinary people through a chain of friends.
Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Washington-based Project for Excellence in Journalism, a think tank affiliated with Columbia University, said the show is â€œindicative of larger trends that are going on in journalism, in which citizens are becoming their own editors, and even their own producers, of news.â€
â€œIt’s much easier to get information from distant places now than it was a generation ago,â€ he said.
Programs like â€œWar News Radio,â€ he said, stem from a feeling that â€œtraditional journalists are isolatedâ€ and that â€œthe mainstream press has somehow lost some authenticity with the public.â€
It was while taping a phone conversation with an Iraqi student a couple of weeks ago that Templeton was stunned by the sound of gunfire. â€œOh, my God!â€ she gasped on the recording.
Broadcasting everyday sounds â€“ of walking down a street in Baghdad, of the Muslim call to prayer, or gunfire â€“ is critical to giving listeners a sense of life in a war-torn nation 6,000 miles away, she said.