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Anthony Shadid talks with UW-Madison students on Iraq, foreign reporting
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Anthony Shadid writes more about the human angle of the story and strives to find a larger truth to put the story in context.
Anthony Shadid writes more about the human angle of the story and strives to find a larger truth to put the story in context.
Credit:Alicia Yager

UW-Madison alumnus Anthony Shadid, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The New York Times, has experienced his fair share of danger reporting from the Middle East. A few years back, he was shot in the back while covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"I still have dreams about getting shot," Shadid told a class of UW students on Friday. "It wasn't the pain... it's just that lying in the street thinking 'This is where it's going to end' is haunting."

Shadid, who gave a lecture on Iraq at the UW campus on Thursday, spoke candidly with about a dozen undergrad and grad students at a luncheon Friday at the Lowell Center.

Besides The New York Times, Shadid's journalistic pedigree includes work with the Associated Press, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and even an internship at Isthmus.

Between mouthfuls of pizza, attendees quizzed the seasoned reporter about topics ranging from the religious divides in the Middle East to the future of print journalism.

Shadid's wife, Nada Bakri -- also a New York Times reporter -- came late to the lunch and brought the couple's newborn son. Even he has been exposed to action in Iraq, in a way.

"[My wife] was in Baghdad when she was seven months pregnant and there were bombs going off nearby," said Shadid, both jokingly and proudly, of his wife's commitment to her job.

In fact, there was even an ironic element of danger during the luncheon, when the fire alarm went off in the building. But Shadid took it in stride and little time was lost in regrouping.

Shadid talked about how important it is for overseas journalists to speak foreign languages and have a sense of intimacy with the culture and surroundings -- something that was lacking in Vietnam War-era reporting. This grounding allows a reporter to establish a better sense of the scene and write with authority, as Shadid himself has done throughout his career, including his award-winning book on the people of Iraq, Night Draws Near.

He noted how Iraq War stories have evolved over the course of the conflict: numbers have almost become meaningless and tragic events commonplace. Because of this, Shadid writes more about the human angle of the story and strives to find a larger truth to put the story in context. It was an issue he grappled with in covering a recent bombing.

"I was standing at this scene in Baghdad, and I was taking down the details of what I saw in front of me, and I realized there's no way I can write on this because it's just so ordinary," Shadid said. "And the fact that this was so ordinary was in itself the real tragedy of this bombing."

Shadid also told how he once found a story about a family looking a loved one by staking out a morgue. As the family finally found and buried the young man, Shadid found himself pulled him into the story.

"I think you have to write with emotion and that sense of outrage or sense of justice," Shadid said. "The worst journalism is gutless writing."

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