The Future of War News Radio

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

With Obama’s election, the possibility of an end to the war in Iraq seems imminent. Will the US withdrawal subsequently slow the production of War News Radio? The Daily Gazette sat down with show producers Meredith Firetog ’10 and Hansi Lo Wang ’09 and WNR journalist-in-residence Abdulla Mizead to discuss the prospects of WNR’s future.

Meredith Firetog ’10 of WNR was unfazed by the question, noting that “people have been asking this since WNR started.” She explains, “the effects of this war will last through our children’s generation. Even if active troops withdraw, there is still going to be an American influence.”

Despite the estimated 2011 withdrawal from Iraq, there are plans to increase troop levels in Afghanistan, a conflict which WNR regularly reports on. Hansi Lo Wang ’09 adds that WNR staff have also considered the possibility of covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He elaborates, “while WNR was founded in response to Iraq and Afghanistan, our real goal is to fill the gap that the mainstream media leaves.” He goes on to explain that “WNR focuses on ordinary people and speaking with them about what it is really like on the ground – regardless of where they are.”

The need for alternative media coverage will be even more pressing when the war officially ends. According to Firetog, “major news corporations such as NBC and CBS are pulling people out of Iraq, even talking about consolidating resources.”

WNR is, at present, engaged in an internal impact report about its effect. It is currently broadcast on forty radio stations across the country in addition to a podcast. When asked if there would be a change in percentage of stories focusing on Iraq, Wang admitted he had no idea. “WNR has always been student-run, based on student initiative and interest. What WNR will look like in 2011 will depend on the Swarthmore students of 2011.”

On a personal level, WNR has deeply shaped those involved in it. Firetog notes, “it has changed the way I see my schooling and how I think about the news and media.” Alumni have taken their WNR experience to work for CBS’s 60 Minutes and the foreign desk of CBS News.

WNR’s journalist-in-residence, Abdulla Mizead, advises War News staff outside of class. Mizead plays a pivotal role in crafting and explaining the source of a story to the staff as well as making the show a dynamic experience.

The WNR staff do believe that Obama’s election signals an important shift in Iraq’s future. Mizead explains that some Iraqi political parties are even using Barack Obama style campaigns for “change” to win votes. He explains that, “militarily, Bush and Obama are very similar, but politically Obama will have a completely different approach.” Wang notes that Obama’s interview with an Arab network demonstrates the new US foreign policy mindset that “instead of dictating, we will listen before acting.”

One of the ongoing challenges WNR faces is lack of funding. Wang points to the economic crisis in addition to the change in college presidents as threats to the organization’s funding. To Wang, the best way to ensure continued support is to maintain a strong organization by “bringing in the fresh energy and fresh ideas of new members.” Firetog concludes on a positive, hopeful note: “A change is in the air, and as a journalist, I am excited to see what happens.”

Correction: This article mistakenly asserted that WNR alumni had worked at “the Katie Couric news desk.” This is incorrect. The article has been corrected to read that alumni have worked at “the foreign desk of CBS News.”

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