Farnaz Fassihi is the deputy bureau chief of Middle East and Africa for The Wall Street Journal and the author of Waiting for An Ordinary Day, a memoir of her four years covering the Iraq war and witnessing the unraveling of life for Iraqi citizens. In May 2006, Fassihi was awarded the prestigious Henry Pringle Lecture Award for her Iraq coverage by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Her coverage of the EgyptAir flight 990 crash won the New England News Executive Award as well as a finalist nomination for the Livingston Award.
Question: Is the Wall Street Journal’s coverage different from the New York Times?
Fassihi: I don’t really think there’s any difference. If anything, I think there was a great advantage to being the reporter for The Wall Street Journal in Baghdad. We had a very small staff. For about a year there was another reporter who was based in Iraq, but for most of the time I was alone. You know, the Journal didn’t really cover news or breaking news as much as The New York Times or The Washington Post, so, it kind of freed me up to be able to focus on enterprise reporting. I would sometimes work on a story for an entire month and really, you know, go in depth and try to, like, cover all the angles because I didn’t have to worry about the press conference today or over the breaking news about the military. So, it was really liberating and, I think, you know, it made you feel good about that reporting you were doing too because you could do more in depth enterprise reporting for The Wall Street Journal.
Question: How do you view the overall reporting from Iraq?Fassihi: Well, you know, I think that reporting Iraq is very challenging. It presents a lot of risks. It’s very difficult and changes depending on what’s happening on the ground in Iraq and the security situation. So I think the media have had a hard time, you know, reporting Iraq and they’ve done a remarkable job, staying the course and, sort of, you know, figuring out creative ways to tell the story. I think one of the challenges was that the violence was just so spectacular, that the headlines were often stolen by the number of people who were killed, the number of suicide bombs, the violence here, you know, how many people killed and, you know, after a while it feels like the readers back here have Iraq fatigue, that to them Iraq is just a bunch of numbers and figures where, you know, there was a human story behind the war and, I think, the biggest challenge and the lesser told story of the war is really what happened to the Iraqi people and the human side of the war. A lot of the coverage that the war gets from American media is centered around the troops, you know, how the American militaries doing on the ground and foreign policy. And it’s hard to, you know, get enough and enough coverage for just ordinary, normal Iraqi people who are coping.