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.
I found War News Radio by accident.
I was one of those liberal arts kids who swore by NPR and The New York Times, but I’d never been involved in journalism. I knew next to nothing about radio and was no good at technology — I’m routinely flummoxed by microwaves, so I didn’t expect to be competent with Garage Band. I didn’t know I wanted to report or produce or broadcast.
But I wanted to tell stories. Real stories, about people and events that mattered to the world beyond college. And just by chance I saw a War News Radio flyer on the Sharples board, plastered with a picture of dorky headphones.
Suddenly, ridiculously, I wanted to be talking on NPR instead of listening.
So I showed up at a meeting in Lodge 6, awkwardly five minutes late. The staff was debating a story on improvised explosive devices, and they all stopped to grin at me.
When I said I wanted to join, a junior took me up to the sound booth, put a mic in front of me, and said, without a trace of sarcasm, “Awesome. You’re hosting the show tonight. Read me the news.”
I was completely, irreversibly, insanely hooked.
War News Radio was founded in 2005, during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — before the surge, before the public outrage and general exhaustion. Reporters trapped in their Baghdad hotels were still generating good journalism, getting interviews by phone. Unsatisfied with media coverage of the Middle East, the students who founded WNR realized that they, too, could cover the combat. When you’re reporting over the phone, it doesn’t much matter whether you call from Kabul or Philadelphia, and over the years we’ve expanded to cover foreign affairs and conflict around the world.
War News Radio is about covering foreign affairs in a way the mainstream media often don’t: in-depth, human interest stories about real people on the ground. I’ve interviewed Bahraini protesters, think-tank brainiacs in London, a Gulf War veteran who drove to Washington D.C. on a farm tractor in search of PTSD treatment. We covered the Arab Spring and are still reporting on its aftermath, long after news anchors have given up talking about stalled protests and crackdowns. We report structural problems — poverty, income inequality, gender disparity — when other news sites only offer a body count.
There’s something spine-tingling about talking to people an ocean away. It’s humbling to hear stories you’d never know about otherwise, experiences you can only imagine actually living. And it’s incredibly rewarding to apply the skills we’ve acquired as Swatties — our abilities to research and write well, and never to stop asking irritating questions — to journalism that’s distributed, read and relevant outside the college bubble.
And hanging out with WNR staffers is just as much fun as reporting with WNR. We eat a lot of pizza and stay at Lodge 6 way too late at night. We party in places that we’re not actually allowed to party, like roofs. We tell a lot of bad stories. We’re addicted to The Newsroom.
And we want you. We want your bad stories and your good ideas. We want your enthusiasm. We want your pet project — the under-reported international issue you care most about — but we also want your questions, the blank spots on your world map.
You can expect a lot from us this year. Last semester we built a more extensive online platform, partly through a collaboration with the Daily Gazette, and we’re continuing to expand from Internet radio into blogging, video, and editorial columns. At our first meeting on September 10 in Lodge 6, we’re starting a mentorship program — WNR will pair you with a more experienced staff member to show you the ropes for your first story. We’re hosting workshops on all the fundamentals, so you’ll be able to jump right into the fun stuff.
And we’re hunting for our next exciting foreign affairs story. We’ve spent the summer biting our nails over Syrian violence and grumbling about Egypt’s elections, and we’re raring to go — but we need your voices and your questions. Come tell stories with us.
Caroline Batten ’14 reports for War News Radio, with you can listen to and read on their site and on The DG.
Party on rooftops? What roof…