Looking at a Past of International News Coverage

December 17, 2009

My interview with the reporter, David Abel, whom I’ve been blogging about this semester.

By Rebecca Ballard

“Sometimes you have to tell a story that’s an important story,” David Abel said, referring to sources he worked with in Cuba who came forward despite risks to their lives. Some people were concerned about having their names published, but others felt free to talk about what was going on. Some of them faced repercussions for that too.

Abel worked in Cuba in 1998, “writing about the regime’s flirtation with capitalism, budding dissident movements and the limits of free expression, and the many ironies 40 years after the revolution, including the regime promoting golf and welcoming u.s. tourists” according to his blog.

Currently though, Abel has moved on to potentially less dangerous territory, but often equally important issues; he covers local news for the Boston Globe, covering issues like “global warming, immigration, homelessness, marriage, labor negotiations, sexual abuse and gun control” (Abel’s Boston Globe Bio).

As a young child, Abel said, he was pretty sure the first thing he ever wanted to be was an airplane. After a brief period of adjustment after learning he could not, in fact, grow up to be an inanimate object, he said he couldn’t decide what he really wanted to do. By college though, he realized being a reporter was his calling—he liked writing, and he wanted to be someone who could hold officials accountable for their actions.

After reporting in Cuba, Abel spent some time working with the military. He was writing for several different papers as he lived in Washington DC, “covering exercises aboard aircraft carriers, the controversy surrounding the navy’s testing range just off Puerto Rico, and arcane issues including problems with submarine warfare and missile defense, the nation’s war strategy, and everything from pork in the defense budget to fraud by contractors” (Military Stories).

This led to him going with troops for 78 days in the spring of 1999 with military troops into the Kosovo War. He said among the challenges he faced was working in a foreign language; he had to worry about whether the information was being translated correctly, or even whether the interpreter might be lying. While the military is notorious in journalism as not being eager to give access, in Kosovo Abel found the American military to be quite helpful and accommodating.

When I asked him how he managed to separate his emotions from his work (considering he was covering the plight of many refugees) he said it was just important to know that while you cared (after all, that’s why you were covering it), it was important to do your best to fully understand the situation and to represent it from a neutral angle in order to be fair (and more effective).

I wondered if he was ever scared, or found himself to be in the sort of danger that made his job as a reporter difficult or even impossible, but while he was in a war zone, Abel said he never felt directly threatened. Except for maybe this one time a train was bombed the week after he’d taken it.

After learning about his international work, and the circumstances if often occurred under, I wondered how he managed to get the sources he did. Naturally, it depended on the source and the story.

Abel told me that it is always important to try to identify where the information comes from, to prove to your readers that it is true. On the other hand, depending on the importance of the information to the article, Abel recommended trying to confirm what you have learned through another source, and then only going ahead with using an anonymous source when necessary.

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