March 19, 2003

War is Not Anonymous

One aspect of a free press that makes it so powerful is its lack of anonymity. Newspaper stories carry bylines. TV reporters stand before the camera. Even if the message is not clear, the messenger is. The news becomes humanized; readers attach credibility, or disbelief, to those names and faces that accompany the stories.

Today, a sad and serious day, the deadline for war near, I find myself thinking of the reporters and photographers who are in Iraq or with the U.S. military. They have the difficult job of finding truths amid the chaos, the conflict and the inevitable emotional confusion that results when reporter and subject share intense experiences.

I know two of those reporters well - Carl Nolte and John Koopman of the San Francisco Chronicle. Carl taught me newswriting in college and John was a colleague on the city desk of the old San Francisco Examiner.

Neither is young, which is interesting because it seems contrary to the common war correspondent image. I don't know how old Carl is, but he had gray hair 25 years ago when used to kick back my stories with comments like "wooly" or "fuzzy writing" written on them. He covered the Gulf War in 1991 and must have volunteered to do it again.

John is described by a St. Petersburg Times reporter, who ran across him during the military training for journalists, as "bald and 44, neither in shape nor out. But what distinguished him from his colleagues at Fort Dix was the black globe and anchor on his left bicep, a relic of his four-year tour with the Marines in the 1970s."

John also rides a motorcycle and has an affinity for firearms. Hmmm maybe he does fit the stereotype.

Carl and John are good people and fine journalists. I wish them well in the days ahead

Follow their work here: Carl Nolte, John Koopman.

Posted by Tim Porter at March 19, 2003 08:43 AM