When it comes to covering the war in Iraq, McClatchy Newspapers has always done things a bit differently. The third-largest newspaper company in the US, it owns thirty-one daily papers, including The Miami Herald, The Sacramento Bee, The Kansas City Star, and The Charlotte Observer. (It became the owner of some of these papers after buying Knight Ridder newspapers in 2006.) McClatchy has a large bureau in Washington, but without a paper either in the capital or in New York, it operates outside the glare of the nation’s political and media elite, and this has freed it to follow its own path.
In the months leading up to the Iraq war, when most news organizations were dutifully relaying the Bush administration’s claims about the threat posed by Iraq, Knight Ridder/McClatchy ran several stories questioning their accuracy. Since the invasion, the company has run a lean but resourceful operation in Baghdad. All three of its bureau chiefs have been young Arab-American women with some fluency in Arabic. At home in the cultures of both the West and the Middle East, they have been adept at interpreting each to the other.
From the start, the McClatchy bureau has made a special point of reporting on the lives of ordinary Iraqis and on the impact the war has had on them. To help it do so, it has relied heavily on its Iraqi staff. It currently has five Iraqi members—former teachers, doctors, and office managers who, joining the staff as translators and “fixers,” have received on-the-job training as reporters. In this, McClatchy is not unique. As the danger to Western reporters in Iraq has mounted, US news organizations have turned to local reporters and stringers to help gather the news. (The work is even more dangerous for them than it is for Westerners; according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, of the 124 journalists who have been killed since the start of the Iraq war, 102 have been Iraqis.)
McClatchy, though, has gone a step further. About a year ago, it set up a blog exclusively for contributions from its Iraqi staff. “Inside Iraq,” it’s called, and several times a week the Iraqi staff members post on it about their experiences and impressions (the blog can be found at washingtonbureau.typepad.com/iraq). “It’s an opportunity for Iraqis to talk directly to an American audience,” says Leila Fadel, the current bureau chief, whose father is from Lebanon and whose mother is from Michigan, who grew up in Saudi Arabia, and who is all of twenty-six years old.
As such, the blog fills a major gap in the coverage. In a recent survey conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism of the Pew Research Center, US journalists in Iraq were asked to grade different aspects of reporting on the occupation. Their highest marks were given to the coverage of the military operations and experiences of US troops—fully 82 percent rated this as excellent or good. Their …