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Q&A with Sun foreign editor

WILM: Let's go live on the WIL newsline to Baltimore and Robert Ruby, foreign editor of The Sun 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 update from what you're hearing from your [reporters] in the field as to what'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 of airfields to use -- those elements are moving north; their infantry members are moving by helicopter. There's also a convoy of a mile or longer with all kinds of vehicles to support the airborne element. We've been talking with the reporter who's with them; they are somewhere in Iraq. They're going to be moving north for a couple days.

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

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

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

RR: Well, it's certainly been as difficult as we thought it would be. It's not possible for this paper or any other news organization to just call up its reporters traveling with the Marines or an airborne division or a mechanized unit. We have to wait for a little bit of a downtime to set up a satellite phone to call us. It's worrisome for people in newsrooms and 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 -- the public and the news organizations to some extent -- to internalize the idea that, well, wars are short, bloodless things and it's all going to be over very quickly one way or the other, and I think we're finding -- certainly the reporters in the field are finding -- that this is a very dangerous operation for individuals and it's causing a tremendous amount of anxiety every day. All of the reporters say what kind of engagement their units 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 for their personal safety?

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

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 business side, but I mean this idea as you said, it may not be a limited war. It could go on for a protracted period of time at a time when many advertising budgets have been diminished and many have had to conserve their budgets on the 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 are supposed to do. This is when an all-news radio station gets its listeners and keeps its listeners, because they realize there's really something on the air. This is when a newspaper can convince and can demonstrate to its readers that there's really something here. It's different from what you hear on the radio or see on TV and -- on a purely mercenary level, which I think is the least important for everyone -- in this instance, it's not real expensive to have reporters in with the Marines or the airborne. There aren'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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