Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Proud day for McClatchy

This report is from McClatchy Washington Editor David Westphal:

It was a proud day to work for McClatchy. Six current and former Iraqi staffers in Baghdad were awarded the Courage Award in New York today by the International Women's Media Foundation. Four of the six were present for the awards lunch at the Waldorf Astoria, and one of them, Sahar Issa, gave a smash acceptance speech on everyone's behalf. Standing behind her were Ban Adil Sarhan, Huda Ahmed and Alaa Majeed. Not able to attend were Zaineb Obeid and Shatha al Awsy. A McClatchy fan club, including John Walcott, Mark Seibel, Leila Fadel, plus Knight Ridder alums Clark Hoyt and Steve Butler, led the cheering section.

We are so proud of them. Their reporting from the streets and roads and markets of Iraq is the foundation of our Baghdad report, and it was obvious from the crowd's reaction (and individual comments afterwards) that McClatchy's sparkling work on Iraq was widely understood and respected.

But this was a day to honor the courage of Ban, Huda, Alaa, Zaineb, Shatha and Sahar -- and by extension all of the Iraqis who have worked for us in Baghdad. Only the handful of you who have worked in Baghdad can fully glimpse what it means to be an Iraqi journalist working for an American news organization. The rest of us can only stand in awe, and express our thanks for all they have given, and risked, to tell the story of their country.

As Bob Woodruff said in his introduction, "These six Iraqi women have reported the war in Baghdad from inside their hearts."

Woodruff, the ABC newsman who was critically injured in Iraq, gave me a copy of his introduction. We'll send Sahar's remarks later.

Introduction of McClatchy Courage Award by ABC newsman Bob Woodruff:
This has been the most dangerous war for journalists. I have American and British friends who have died there. Still, Iraqi journalists have suffered the most. More than 80 percent of the reporters who have died there are Iraqis.

They are courageous and busy, day to day traveling on the streets. Among the best of these journalists are the six Iraqi women from McClatchy’s bureau whom we honor today. They have become the eyes and ears of a nation... their nation.

They words say it all:

“Abu Salah heard the screeching tires and gunfire outside his home in central Baghdad, and cowered. He’s feared this moment. He’d even plotted leaving the city. Now invaders had entered his street, and he knew that as the only Sunni on a street filled with Shiites, he was probably their target, whoever the invaders might be.” – Zained Obeid

“I left my home Monday. As my family fled the fighting that’s engulfed our neighborhood in Baghdad, I gazed out the car window, thinking that I might never again see the fruit stand off our street, the shops where my sisters and I bought soft drinks, the turquoise-domed mosque where we prayed in the Holy month of Ramadan.” – Shatha al Awsy

“We were asked to send the next of kin to whom the remains of my nephew, killed on Monday in a horrific explosion downtown, can be handed. From the waist down was all they could give us. ‘We identified him by the cell phone in his pants’ pocket. If you want the rest, you will just have to look for yourself. We don’t know what he looks like.’ Now begins the horror that surpasses anything I could have possibly envisioned.” – Sahar Issa

These six Iraqi women have reported the war in Baghdad from inside their hearts. They have watched as the war touched the lives of their neighbors and friends and then they bore witness as it reached into the lives of each and every one of them.

All the while, they have been the backbone of the McClatchy bureau, sleeping with bullet-proof vests and helmets by their beds at night, taking different routes to work each day, trying to keep their employment by a Western news organization secret.

All have lost family members or close friends. All have had their lives threatened. All have had narrow escapes with death.

(Then a video about the McClatchy bureau, including interviews with Leila Fadel and Nancy Youssef.)

With us today are four of the incredible journalists from McClatchy’s bureau: Ban Adil Sarhan, Huda Ahmed, Alaa Majeed and, accepting the award for all of them, Sahar Issa.

We ask that you refrain from photographing them, because if their identities should become known, it would pose a threat to both themselves and their families living in Iraq.
click to enlarge

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