Allison Nekola – Copy Editor
Introducing him to a packed Rosen crowd, communications professor Dana Janbek said Nabih Bulos has a unique career. “As most people are trying to flee Syria, journalists are trying to get into Syria so they can understand the story, [and] get the story back…to audiences around the world,” said Janbek. The Jordanian gentleman draped in all black is a correspondent for The Los Angeles Times who spoke to undergraduate and graduate students about reporting in a war-torn country.
The Syrian conflict has killed more than 100,000 people, driven millions out of their homes, and has left much of the country in ruins, according to Janbek’s introduction.
“It is so difficult for journalists to get access into these countries. The risk runs high when gathering information, even for someone like me who has a Jordanian passport,” said Bulos.
The discussion started off on a solemn tone as Bulos recalled a tragic yet familiar event, which had taken place on April 14. Bulos said, “Three correspondents (journalists) from Al-Manar, (a Lebanese television station) were killed while in Al-Maaloula…a city just north of Damascus…one of the most serine places you will ever see in your life.”
“[The three correspondents] were going in their car, into town. Out pops a rebel or terrorist or gunman, depending on what side you’re on, and shoots them all dead,” he said.
Why start off with such a depressing story? Because it’s powerful, and all of it is true.
“Syria is the most dangerous place for journalists. The problem is the line between a journalist and a solider is blurred,” Bulos said. “For example, those three journalists were considered active participants in the war.” After they were killed, they were considered martyrs for their contributions to the media. Each was given a full military funeral in Lebanon.
“On the other side, they aren’t viewed as impartial observers. They’ve presented a side in the media, meaning they are an active participant in the war and therefore, fair game [for terrorists],” said Bulos.
It’s hard to tell whose side anyone is on, possibly making Syria the most dangerous place to be today. “You don’t have just one continuous landmass control, you have a Swiss cheese effect,” he said. “Here you have many different sides. You have the government…the Ba’ath Brigade..the Jihad…the NDF (National Defense Force). On the side of the rebels, it is ridiculous. You will see 10 different brigades in one city.”
According to Bulos, money and weapons are what counts. They are in large supply but are controlled and given from a variety of national activists. He said: “It became a matter of, if you agree with my beliefs you get my weapons and money.”
This makes it extremely hard to stay safe because journalists aren’t sure who to stay away from. Kidnappings happen all the time. Even with Bulos’s experience and connections, he said of sources and citizens: “I can’t fully trust what they say.”
When asked how he stays safe, he said: “There is an app that pings where you are, giving your affiliation complete control of tracking where you go. This helps but you can’t 100 percent trust anything. There is never a guarantee that a larger group won’t kidnap you. You can’t control if there is an air bomb or a car bomb.”
In an exclusive interview with Bulos after the lecture, he didn’t discourage young journalists who aspire to travel and do international reporting. “I can’t discourage it. The fact is, this is the most interesting type of journalism but you have to have skills and correct resources before you do it,” he said. “The internet lets you tap into these resources and scan over security procedures. Learning the language is a key way to be prepared.”
Bulos also mentioned the importance of proper funding, which leads to getting a good fixer. A fixer is the local person on the ground who is going to help journalists get adjusted and make connections. He said: “The more research you do, the smaller margin of risk you deal with.”
When asked how this lifestyle has affected his personal life he said: “If I did have a relationship, I wouldn’t do this.”
He recalled a fellow journalist, who had to constantly leave her family in the United States during her coverage of Syria. “She would write a letter to her husband and daughter every time she came and went [to Syria] because she was aware that at any moment her life could be gone,” he said. “It was so emotionally exhausting that she had to give up it all up.”
Bulos came prepared with hard-hitting facts and didn’t sugar coat; exactly what a true journalist should do.
Communications student Chelsea Curley said: “His talk was great, I was interested the whole time. I wish he talked more about his background in journalism though and gave more of an explanation of the field than just his experiences in Syria.”
Bulos delivers the world information that would not be accessible without his courage and the courage of journalists everywhere, risking their lives so that every story is told.