Q&A with Sun foreign editor

SunSpot Staff

WILM: Let's go live onthe WIL newsline to Baltimore and Robert Ruby, foreign editor of TheSun coordinating the newspaper's coverage of this war.Thanks for joining us.

ROBERT RUBY: My pleasure to be here.

WILM: And may I ask, it's so hard, if you could give us a kind of updatefrom what you're hearing from your [reporters] in the field as towhat's up in any drastic changes of the past 24 hours?

RR: One of the things that's been happening is other elements of the 101st Airborne Division -- which has been kept back in Kuwait for lack ofairfields to use -- those elements are moving north; their infantry membersare moving by helicopter. There's also a convoy of a mile or longer withall kinds of vehicles to support the airborne element. We've been talkingwith the reporter who's with them; they are somewhere in Iraq. They'regoing to be moving north for a couple days.

WILM: And so, finally, we're starting to get some airfield clearance andtherefore are able to use some of these units who have been kind of restingwhere they were.

RR: That's right, I think the most significant development actually is onethat occurred overnight: American paratroopers taking over an airfield wayin the north of the country. I think we're going to be hearing in the next dayor two about tanks and other heavy armor being airlifted -- perhaps fromEurope, perhaps from down in Kuwait -- to this airfield in northernIraq so that the Americans can open up a second front and have some punchbehind it.

WILM: And, of course, that's been so very difficult because of the Turks intheir position. May I ask, as obviously a major metropolitan newspaperwith a significant international staff, you have no doubt trouble-shootedthis and planned. What has gone awry in your plans? What have been some ofthe difficulties that you did or did not foresee [regarding] yourcoverage with your reporters?

RR: Well, it's certainly been as difficult as we thought it would be. It'snot possible for this paper or any other news organization to just call upits reporters traveling with the Marines or an airborne division or amechanized unit. We have to wait for a little bit of a downtime to set up asatellite phone to call us. It's worrisome for people in newsroomsand I think it's, we never know what's going on until we hear from them,and of course we have no control over when we're going to hear from them.The other important thing is that I think almost everyone wants -- thepublic and the news organizations to some extent -- to internalize the ideathat, well, wars are short, bloodless things and it's all going to be oververy quickly one way or the other, and I think we're finding -- certainly the reporters in the field are finding -- that this is a verydangerous operation for individuals and it's causing a tremendous amount ofanxiety every day. All of the reporters say what kind of engagement theirunits are engaged in. [But not knowing] when we are going to hear from them to know everyone is safe. That I don't think I had fully counted on or expected.

WILM: Have you had more than one episode yet where you see something on TV,hear something on the radio, where you know where one of your correspondents is enmeshed with that group and you are suddenly fearful fortheir personal safety?

RR: It's happened a couple of times where you hear something, or in my caseI've actually heard by e-mail from spouses of people in the same Marinebattalion: "Have you heard what we hear? There's been an engagement, wehear, there has been casualties of such and such a number, what do youhear, what are your reporters telling you about?" I don't know how it'spossible, but in some cases the family members back home have gotten wordto me before the reporters have been able to, that an engagement is underway.

WILM: A whole different war for sure from a generation ago.

RR: It is.

WILM: Finally, I know you are on the journalistic side, not the businessside, but I mean this idea as you said, it may not be a limited war. Itcould go on for a protracted period of time at a time when many advertisingbudgets have been diminished and many have had to conserve their budgets onthe revenue side. I mean it's going to be very, very difficult, I imagine.

RR: It is, but on some level, I mean, this is what news organizations aresupposed to do. This is when an all-news radio station gets its listenersand keeps its listeners, because they realize there's really something onthe air. This is when a newspaper can convince and can demonstrate to itsreaders that there's really something here. It's different from what youhear on the radio or see on TV and -- on a purely mercenary level, which Ithink is the least important for everyone -- in this instance, it's not realexpensive to have reporters in with the Marines or the airborne. Therearen't a lot of hotel costs; there aren't any costs at all. So this is,it's a horrific way, but it's not a difficult operation to maintain.

WILM: OK. Thanks so much, and good luck to you with your coverage and your staff.

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