Swarthmore students shedding new light on events in Iraq

By exploring Iraq through the eyes of government officials and politicians, U.S. soldiers, insurgents and civilians, student journalists at Swarthmore College are telling the war-torn country’s story – all without leaving their campus.

The idea for War News Radio began as an e-mail conversation in December 2004. By the following month, 14 students had filmed a 30-minute pilot with help from David Gelber, a CBS News producer and Swarthmore alumnus.

“Originally the show was a lot different, the idea was to have a five-day-a-week news summary compiling news on the war,” Elhai said. “By the end of the semester, we wanted to do more feature and in-depth reporting.”

Such features have included a piece on Arabic translators involved in the war and the U.S. government’s use of “private contractors” rather than U.S. intelligence agencies to gather information in the country.

When Western journalists are risking their lives walking on Baghdad’s streets, how do the reporters of War News Radio keep such good contacts in the Middle East?

“A lot of people in Iraq use Internet services, as it’s increasingly difficult for them to get out at night,” said Wren Elhai, a sophomore political science major and reporter for the program. “Things like Yahoo instant messenger and Skype have really taken off.”

Programs like Skype, which allow phone calls to be made over the Internet inexpensively, are keeping War News Radio reporters connected to sources in Iraq who want to reach American listeners.

“People want to talk about what is going on and share what their life is like,” said Reuben Heyman-Cantor, a senior War News Radio reporter. “It’s important because the American public doesn’t fully know what’s going on over there.”

War News Radio, now overseen by National Public Radio veteran Marty Goldensohn, is a staple on Swarthmore’s campus radio station. But the program lives much of its life on the Web, where its podcast draws up to three thousand listeners a day.

“It’s important to get involved with politics and war in a way that increases the dialogue,” said Heyman-Cantor. “We spend a lot of our time writing stuff for professors, but this is a way to grapple with issues we wouldn’t otherwise be talking about.”

Heyman-Cantor is graduating this semester, but is participating in an Arabic language program through the University of Cairo and plans on starting a chapter there.

Reporters at the program pride themselves on investigating events in Iraq for listeners, but reporters like sophomore Scott Tanner say the program has a lot of room to grow.

“I wish more people and other colleges would get involved,” he said. “It’s really good for college students who have time and interest to get an insight on what is happening in Iraq.”

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