New hope for a son of Libya


This is Bashir Al Megaryaf. He’s holding a poster demanding the release of his father, imprisoned in a Libyan jail for two decades. Bashir was only 1 when his father was detained. He has not seen him since.

But he has new hope in his heart that the two may be together again as the Libyan uprising against strongman Moammar Gadhafi gathers steam.

Bashir was among a crowd of Libyans demonstrating in front of CNN Center in Atlanta on Saturday. I had just finished writing a main Libya story for CNN Wires and CNN.com; had watched gruesome videos and listened to the on-air descriptions by witnesses of Gadhafi’s bloody crackdown that was unfolding in Libyan cities and towns.

Writing about the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East have been overwhelming — they are such powerful stories of human perseverance and courage. I wished so many times that I might have an opportunity to cover the story from the ground.

Thus far, I have seen it only from the CNN newsroom.

So when I stepped out into the gloriously sunny and warm afternoon Saturday, accosted by thousands of people attending a hair show, a cheerleading convention and a circus, I felt compelled to walk over the waving Libyan flags and the voices that rang out the loudest on Marietta Street.

Meeting Bashir brought Libya home for me. I have been reading a new book of my father’s writings and could not imagine a life without ever knowing him. Suddenly, the idea of freedom in Libya, a nation have never visited, became very personal to me.

I hope to write more about Bashir in the days ahead. Meanwhile, you can read about Libya and the rest of the region on CNN.com

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Protests in Haiti



I have been covering the post-election fallout in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where people tell me they are fed up with a government that has failed to deliver.

This year alone, Haiti has endured a massive earthquake, a hurricane and a cholera outbreak. They say they can’t take that their will not be respected now. They say the November 28 presidential election was rigged; that Jude Celestin, the government-backed candidate, did not win a place in the runoff.

Many favor Michel Martelly, a popular and flamboyant Kompa singer known by the monicker of “Tet Kale,” which means bald head in Creole.

The city was tense Wednesday after many hours of protests. People set buildings and tires on fire. They used the concrete rubble from the earthquake to block the streets and torched Celestin’s campaign headquarters.

Here are two pictures of me covering the story for CNN. You can read it on http://www.cnn.com

Happy Birthday, CNN


It’s CNN’s 30th birthday today.

I was not yet 18 when Ted Turner launched his visionary network. I didn’t know then that I would be a journalist, let alone work for the world’s most reputable news network.

I watched CNN cover the Challenger disaster, Baby Jessica and then the Gulf War. CNN had arrived. I watched Christiane Amanpour report from Bosnia-Herzegovina and admired her talent and courage.

Just before the invasion of Iraq, I spent several weeks in Baghdad covering the U.N inspections and writing about the fear in Iraqi hearts. War was imminent in a nation that had already suffered so much.

I was alone on that trip. And nervous to be in a police state. I found friends at CNN. Eason Jordan, then a top executive at CNN, offered me workspace and conversation. It was a relief just to be in the presence of friendly faces.

But the world of broadcast remained alien to me.

I was a print journalist and newspapers were still turning profits. But the industry changed rapidly.

Last year, I left the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after 19 long years. Needless to say, the decision was tough.

But I was lucky enough to land at CNN. The more I learn about television, the more I am fascinated.

The stories on CNN’s 30th anniversary are focusing on a pivotal time for the network. Outdone in the ratings race in prime time, CNN, say analysts, has to figure out how to reinvent itself before it gets beat at its own game.

Maybe.

We’ll see where the next few months take us.

But f you ask me, CNN does a mighty fine job bringing the world to millions of homes. Every day. 24/7. And I am glad to play a part.

Reinvention

The alarm sounded at 6:15 a.m., heralding the start of a momentous day. After a 8-month hiatus from the working world, Kevin returned to an office today.

My journalist friends would say he went to “the dark side,” a term for public relations work. He’s a flak, they would say. But after seeing so many of my talented and qualified friends struggle to find jobs, I am relieved that Kevin found one; that he was able to reinvent himself after 30-plus years at newspapers.
I felt particularly lucky after seeing “Up in the Air” last night. The movie revolves around a man whose job is to travel the country and fire people. Jobs lost, lives changed forever.
In America, we are going through the worst recession since the Great Depression. The economy will bounce back soon, one hopes, but so many professions are being reshaped in this rapidly evolving world we inhabit. The slow death of newspapers, for one, touched my life in ways I never imagined. I always assumed I would retire as a daily newspaper reporter. So did Kevin.
On my trip home to India a month ago, I noticed a different sort of change. The street life I knew from childhood — the hawkers and sellers — are threatened by a new lifestyle, a new middle class that has enough disposable income to spend at fancy malls and restaurants.
In the next few blogs, I plan to highlight a few of these professions that are dying off. Some may feel familiar; others not so much. Some are essential; others quirky. All involve people, like ourselves, who must now think of reinventing their lives.

Slaughter and sensitivity

We don’t know enough yet about Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan to draw any conclusions about why he would launch a killing spree at Fort Hood.

Was it that Hasan, the psychiatrist had absorbed too much combat stress from the soldiers he counseled? Or did his interactions brew anger within? Or was he just evil?
We know nothing about the victims, either.
The story is sure to thicken with detail as the next few days progress and perhaps the ironies, too, will continue to grab headlines.
My irony is that I was amid a crowd of people who are specialists in stress and trauma when I began to learn the details of this story — long before I went to work at CNN Thursday night. I was at a reception thrown by the Dart Center on Journalism and Trauma, speaking with folks like Frank Ochberg, Alana Newman, Jonathan Shay and Bruce Shapiro, when the story was breaking.
The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies is meeting in Atlanta and Dart hosts its annual fellowships in sync with the conference. So that journalists are exposed to people who have devoted a lifetime to studying trauma.
My colleague Tom Watkins came running from CNN to see what he could find in this room rich with knowledge to add to our stories on the shooting. I just know that I had little inclination to work. My only desire was to soak up the humanity of these folks.
I’m thankful to be an Ochberg fellow, to be among journalists courageous enough to cover tough stories, even when it takes a toll on them. (More TK) While you watch the footage of the shooting, remember the cameraman or woman, the producer, the writer, the photographer who got close enough to tell the story with the depth and sensitivity it deserves.
And remember that journalists are people, too.

About journalists and trauma

“Hey! Welcome back. How was Iraq?”

That’s something I heard often in the hallways of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution when I was freshly returned from war. But how do you answer such a question when the person who asked hasn’t even slowed their gait to listen. I mean, really listen.
So the answer, inevitably, went like this: “Iraq was great. Glad to be home.”
Keep moving.
Tonight, at the Atlanta Press Club, I have been asked to contribute to a discussion on journalists who cover traumatic events. I’m not sure what I will say because I’m not sure I have figured it all out.
I just know that after seven trips to Iraq, life became rather difficult to navigate at times. I felt lonely, cocooned really, thinking that no one here understood me anymore. I was frustrated to hear my friends speak of things I considered dull, irrelevant, inane. I wanted the paper to laud me for my heroic efforts. It didn’t. I considered every assignment boring — what could top a war story?
I saw rivers of blood in my dreams and when I awoke, I wanted to return there. It was the only place that had meaning.
I don’t know what I will say tonight. That, perhaps, is the entire point.
Covering These Troubled Times: What Journalists Should Know about Trauma



WHEN
Wednesday, November 4
6 – 6:30pm reception
6:30-7pm Screening: Breaking News, Breaking Down
7- 8:30pm Panel discussion

WHERE
The Commerce Club, 16th Floor
34 Broad Street Atlanta, GA 30303 Valet parking is available for $6 and is not included in the ticket prices. For directions, please visitwww.thecommerceclub.org/location.html. Because of limited parking at TCC, please consider using MARTA, whose Five Points station is across the street, or parking in nearby decks on Marietta Street.

R.S.V.P.
This program is open to the public. APC members and students receive complimentary admission to the event. Please R.S.V.P. so we know how many people to expect. Nonmembers may purchase tickets for $10. Tickets may be purchased by clicking the link below or by calling 404-57-PRESS. Payment must accompany reservations, and there is a 48-hour cancellation policy.

Honoring Gayle


This year, the Religion Newswriters Association chose my friend Gayle White as its lifetime achievement award recipient. I cannot think of anyone who deserves this honor more.

The ceremony in Minneapolis Saturday night was even more poignant for the both of us because Gayle and I were among almost 100 journalists who left the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in its latest round of buyouts and layoffs last May.

Gayle worked at the paper 37 long years. She spent 16 of them covering the religion beat. She reported each story in depth and detail. Her writing was elegant and mellifluous. She taught me the power of ordinary stories told in extraordinary ways.

Gayle was the best at her craft and yet she never exhibited the arrogance that overtakes some award-winning journalists. She remained modest and humble to her last day and approached every story she wrote with the same enthusiasm she had when she started out in the business all those years ago.

Gayle’s husband, Bob, died of cancer two years ago. She endured the most painful experience of her life with the same perseverance and grace that made her such an incredible reporter.

I had the privilege of sitting next to Gayle for the last five years I was at the AJC. If there is one thing I miss about going to work at 72 Marietta Street every day, it’s seeing Gayle’s smile first thing in the morning.