Kurt Pitzer on Technology and War Correspondence
Kurt Pitzer is a former commercial longline fisherman and relief worker who has reported from many of the world's turbulent regions, including the Balkans, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He was embedded with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division during the invasion of Iraq, then jumped his embed as Baghdad fell. He met Dr. Mahdi Obeidi soon afterward and helped him go public with Saddam Hussein's remaining nuclear secrets. He and Obeidi cowrote The Bomb in My Garden: The Secrets of Saddam's Nuclear Mastermind, which was published in paperback in September 2005.
Question: How has technology changed your work?
Pitzer: Well it wasn’t very long ago that people were still filing stories and sending pictures via film canisters and calling in stories on the phone as best as they could from regions where, you know, the nether regions and places that were hard to get to, and that all changed with e-mails, satellite phones, and digital cameras. And, it was really the late ‘90s, and the first fully digital conflict was Afghanistan, when everyone was shooting, all of the photographers were shooting digitally and we reporters were all carrying around satellite phones and filing stories moment to moment from the mountains of the Anjuman Pass and the [Panjab] Valley and places where people are riding around on horseback because even cars can’t go.
Question: Can technology impede good journalism?
Pitzer: Certainly, it’s nice to have research at one’s fingertips. I think there’s a danger of relying so much on technology for research that you go to Wikipedia or you go to, you google something and you think you’ve got answers to the questions that you’re hoping to give to your readers. And, in fact, what the job of a journalist is to go, is to write and get a fresh perspective, and not to regurgitate stuff that it’s already out there. And so, I think it’s important not to rely on technology. I think, most journalists use the technology in roughly the same way as a simple tool for bringing back the experience more quickly and efficiently, but there’s no substitute for the human mind and the fresh experience and the face to face contact with people, and that’s the role of a journalist, is to go beyond technology. That’s what we’re there for.
Question: Has technology changed your relationship with editors?
Pitzer: It’s certainly allows more immediate feedback from editors and the home base, the home office, and that’s a double edge sword, of course, because, you know, you want to get feedback, and know that what you’re out there covering and experiencing is going to make it into the pages that’s going to reach the doorsteps of the readers. And that’s a collaborative process with the editors. On the other hand, it’s kinda nice to lose touch for a few days sometimes and be able to not have any input from people back home.
Starting with Afghanistan in the late 90s, Kurt Pitzer says digital technology is bringing a new immediacy to war reporting.
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