Special Reports

Statesman editor: Sending team to Iraq is hard but important

We began to prepare for a trip to Iraq from the moment we learned last spring that 1,700 Idahoans would spend a year in the war zone there.

It has not been easy on any level, from the emotional to the logistics. It is a profound decision to choose to send people I am responsible for and people I care about into a situation where they could be injured or even killed.

Before deciding to send a reporting team to Iraq, I gathered people at one big staff meeting to have a group discussion, to see how strongly our newsroom family felt. Some people still feel that the risk is not worth the benefit of the coverage. But the dominant sentiment on the staff is that journalists must cover important events in the lives of people in our communities even — especially — when it's tough.

We talked to several folks on the staff before deciding who to assign. We looked for folks who had some combination of relevant experience, physical strength, family support and personal belief that the story was worth the risk.

When we assigned Roger and Kim, I had many individual conversations with them, up until the day they left. I told them that I would still be proud of them if either of them changed their mind at the last minute. It was important that they be comfortable with their decision.

Logistics were challenging. The paperwork to receive permission to embed was the least of it. We ordered body armor from Israel. Roger and Kim trained physically for the stress of carrying those extra pounds. We bought a satellite phone and upgraded other computer and photography equipment. Roger and Kim subjected themselves to rounds of vaccinations and malaria pills.

But in the end, it's worth it because it's important. It is important to cut through, as best we can, the vague and sometimes conflicting information thousands of families feel they're getting.

It's important to see through independent eyes what our neighbors are sacrificing 18 months of their lives for. And it's important for all of us, as citizens, to better understand people of another culture and to close the gap between us.

Carolyn Washburn is executive editor of The Idaho Statesman. Call her at 377-6403 or e-mail cwashburn@idaho statesman.com.