Diary of a Bad Year: A War Correspondent’s Dilemma

June 25th, 2013 | by Kelly McEvers with Jay Allison
photo of Kelly McEvers

Kelly McEvers. Photo by Glen Carey

Among the braver things Kelly McEvers has done is to make this documentary. In 2011, Kelly started to see things in slow motion. She cried unpredictably. She was NPR’s correspondent in the Middle East, at the time of the Arab uprisings. Colleagues and friends were being kidnapped. Some were getting killed.

But still, she went toward the story. The next year, 2012, was the deadliest on record for journalists worldwide. It was a huge hit to the “tribe” of foreign correspondents of which Kelly is a part. Kelly began to wonder, “Why do otherwise intelligent people risk their lives when they don’t have to?”

Kelly came to Woods Hole where she and I began to examine this question with the idea of making a radio story together. Over the next year, she kept an audio diary. She talked to doctors, scientists, and fellow conflict journalists like Sebastian Junger, Jon Lee Anderson, and Christiane Amanpour. She asked them about how they’ve kept going, or why they’ve stopped, of if they could stop even if they wanted to. Her quest for answers leads us to understand the sacrifices made by reporters and their families, and the sometimes dangerous allure of the job.

Kelly shows bravery as a foreign correspondent every time she goes out in risky circumstances, but it requires courage to do this too: to examine her own vulnerability, fears, and confusion—to turn her reportorial skills on herself.

This piece was about a year and a half in the making, and we just finished. I think it makes for a riveting hour of radio.

Jay A

About Diary of a Bad Year: A War Correspondent’s Dilemma

This project was born in the place where so many good ideas come to life — Woods Hole. I was visiting Jay and the Transom Story Workshop to talk about making radio.

Like good reporters, Jay and Melissa Allison, Viki Merrick, Samantha Broun, Sydney Lewis, and Rob Rosenthal asked me a lot of tough questions. As I answered, I realized the tables had been turned on me, that by confronting me with the curiosity I usually apply to the people I interview, they were getting me to say and realize things I didn’t even know were true.

I had deep concerns about my job, but I never would have examined them this fully had it not been for the welcoming, open, supportive, loving hearts in Woods Hole — and, later, for conversations I had with my dear friend, the great radio producer, Sean Cole. At one point I remember writing an email to Jay that said something like, “If I really go through with this project, I will end up quitting my job.”

We’ll see about that. What I do know is that making this story has totally altered the way I look at what I and most of my friends do for a living. It has made me more aware and ultimately more safe in the field. It was hard, it was personal, but I think it was worth it.

What I learned

One of the biggest lessons for me was that it’s all about perspective. It’s one thing to talk about this stuff casually with friends (and with yourself), but it’s another thing to really dig deep and try to prosecute the ideas, especially when it’s your own life that’s on the stand. Doing this kind of work is hard, and it takes time.

When Jay and I started this back in 2011, he suggested I record diaries as I went along. No expectations — just record what comes to mind as it’s happening. It sounds easy, but for me it was hard.

Just that simple act of stepping back, removing myself from the moment, was a struggle. Some of the diaries were unusable, mainly because I wasn’t able to step back far enough, or because they were just too sad.

Here’s diary I recorded at like 3:00 a.m., in Yemen, the week that Anthony Shadid (the award-winning journalist for the The New York Times) died. I had just heard that another member of the tribe, Marie Colvin (the award-winning journalist for the British paper The Sunday Times), died.

Listening back to this clip, it’s clear I didn’t have much perspective. I talk about how I’m NOT a war correspondent like Marie and others, and yet only a few months later, I was basically embedded with Syrian rebels. Months after that I was at the front line.

Also, I talk about how Marie’s stories had some bearing on the international community’s policy in Syria, clearly because that’s what I wanted to believe. It’s only now that I can painfully admit her stories had little impact. The killing in Homs, the place where she was reporting when she died, continued after her death. More than one year later, it continues today.

Still, keeping a diary was really, really cool. So cool that I still do it, as a matter of course. One great help is that I can do it on my iPhone. I just tap Hindenburg and start talking. That way if I’m in public, I don’t look like a crazy cat lady — I look like I’m talking on the phone.

At the risk of repeating myself, I have to say that I think the key here was knowing that someone would be *listening* to these diaries, that someone actually cared to know what I had to say.

It’s a setup I’ve tried to repeat in subsequent stories: I actually imagine the person who might be listening to the diary, while I talk into my mic or into my phone. I often use the “standup” technique in my news radio stories. But rather than making them sound like pre-written News Paragraphs, I do them more like diaries. I try to just record them raw, so they sound like an actual human being talking, observing, reacting to what she sees.

For me, during this project, the faces I pictured while recording the diaries were Jay, my man Nathan, my best friend, colleagues back in the news room — any number of people. It doesn’t totally matter whose face you picture. The key is just that in that moment, you feel confident that someone will want to hear what you have to say.

So a year goes by, then more months, then a year, and you have all these diaries. They’re one beat removed from the present tense, but they’re still very raw. How to put them in perspective? I already was seeking advice from people — the therapist, Mark Brayne, and other colleagues. But once I started seeing familiar themes coming together in the diaries, that gave me a framework for the questions I would ask the learned collection of advisers.

Tough interviews

Kelly with solidiers

Kelly McEvers. Photo by Glen Carey

Talking to Anna Blundy (author, journalist and daughter of foreign correspondant, David Blundy) was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done. There I was, about to go to Syria on a clandestine mission, and I decided to interview the adult version of my own child, who basically told me I had no business being a conflict journalist.

I have a lot of friends in this field who can push back. I wish I were one of them. Rather than argue with Anna, I crumbled. At that point in 2012 I was sleeping just a few hours a night. I had unexplained migraines. I was a bear to live with. So instead of yelling at her, I just sat down on the sidewalk and cried.

But I left her in the piece, because even though some of the points she made were over the top, I still wanted listeners to hear that we’re not all out here, patting ourselves on the back for how great we are. We do have such nay-sayers in our midst, and we do have our own doubts.

While it is about the mission, Anna was right. It’s also about The Life, the parties, the stories, the fun. That’s a hard thing to admit. It took a tough interview with Anna to get me to admit it.

How does it end?

Perhaps one of the hardest things about working on a piece like this is that life keeps going, even though the “story” has to stop at some point. If I did this piece now, it would be different, because I’ve had conversations and experiences that have yet again changed the way I think about my job. At some point, you just have to know when to put down the paint brush. Perspective is nice, but so are deadlines.

Thank you’s

I dedicate this piece to the lost members of the tribe and to their families. I stand forever in salute to Chris Hondros, Tim Hetherington, Gilles Jacquier, Anthony Shadid, Marie Colvin, and Remy Ochlik.

A huge thanks to those who participated in this project by agreeing to talk to me: Mark Brayne, Anthony Feinstein, Paul Wood, Anna Blundy, Jon Lee Anderson, Sebastian Junger, and Christiane Amanpour. Thanks again to the wonderful folks at Transom, who opened their houses and their hearts and reinforced my belief in the principle that if you listen, really listen, great things happen.

Thank you to my true partners in crime — Lava Selo, Rima Marrouch, and Rasha Elass — who have been by my side on every Syria story. Thank you to my dear friend and editor, Doug Roberts, who let me try weird things on the radio despite the fact that I was breaking all the rules. I am forever in his debt. Thanks to the inimitable Loren Jenkins, for believing in me after all those years of trying.

Thank you to Jonathan Blakley, who first put me in touch with Mark Brayne and who helped me understand it’s okay to talk to a counselor; to Barbara Surk and Hassan Jamali, who were with me as we were tear-gassed in Bahrain; to Noor Kelze, who first took me to the front line in Aleppo; to Manoli Wetherell, Jim Lesher, and Suzanne Lennon, who engineered and recorded interviews; to Jennifer Dargan, who helped arrange my interview with Christiane Amanpour; and to Tim Fitzsimons, Susannah George, and John Mangin, who provided early and very helpful feedback.

And perhaps the biggest thanks of all goes to my family — Steve, Claudia, and Dave McEvers — whose support is unwavering despite the pain it causes them, and to Nathan Deuel, my collaborator, my best friend, and my one great love.

photo of Kelly McEvers

Kelly McEvers. Photo by Glen Carey

About Kelly McEvers

Kelly McEvers is a Middle East correspondent for National Public Radio based in Beirut, Lebanon, mainly covering the conflict in Syria. In 2012 she was awarded the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia award, the Peabody award, the Gracie award, and an Overseas Press Club citation. She began covering the Arab uprisings in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen in early 2011. Previously she was based in Baghdad, Iraq, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Before coming to the Middle East, she covered Southeast Asia and the former Soviet Union. Her radio work has also appeared on This American Life, Marketplace, The World, Weekend America, the series Stories From the Heart of the Land, On The Media, The Savvy Traveler, the BBC, and the CBC. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, The New Republic, Slate, Foreign Policy, The Washington Monthly, The New York Review of Books, The Chicago Tribune, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Music

Thank you to Matthias Bossi, Carla Kihlstedt, and Jon Evans for the original music they composed for this piece. You can find more of their music at:

Lawless Music

Rabbit Rabbit Radio

Carla Kihlstedt

Matthias Bossi

Jon Evans

 

Support for this work provided by the
National Endowment for the Arts

National Endowment for the Arts logo


47 Comments on “Diary of a Bad Year: A War Correspondent’s Dilemma”

  • Kelly and Jay,
    Wow. Good one. Thanks. That’s the best thing I’ve heard in a long time.
    Scott

  • jnbraider says:

    First off, absolutely wonderful in every sense of the word. Hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the diary-keeping. When did you start? As a non-diarist, I tend to let memory be my filter — whatever recollection remains is the stuff that is important to me — whereas I see keeping a diary as a ritual of reflection and introspection. If I read you right, you came to the diary late-ish. Was there something particular or were you responding to some growing awareness or sensibility?

    • Kelly McEvers says:

      The diaries were Jay’s great idea. But the best thing was that he left it really open-ended. He just said, hey why don’t you start recording moments of reflection in the field? So I did. Many of the diaries didn’t work. But some of them had the perspective we needed. Thanks for listening!

  • Kelly, you made me cry! Thanks for this great, important piece. Please keep coming home safely.
    Mars

  • John Biewen says:

    Wonderful piece — and yes, absolutely brave, Kelly. Provoked a bunch of personal reactions in me as a journalist and a parent … and you touched on pretty much every important angle. Thanks to both of you for doing it.

  • Jon Miller says:

    Kelly — thank you and Jay for doing this, and for all your brilliant work these last few years. In my as-yet-unwritten letter to my own children, I’ll be proud to mention that I worked with you. But it wasn’t your courage or derring-do that most impressed me in the work we did together — it was your humanity, and your deep concern for your subjects.

    Maybe that’s why I had such mixed feelings listening to this piece. Not about the production, which is terrific, but about your struggle. There were times when I wanted to scream, “Kelly, can’t you see how selfish you’re being? Can’t you hear how sick you sound?” Hearing Loretta’s sweet voice was heartbreaking. Hearing the grown-up Loretta’s (i.e., Anna’s) voice was even more heartbreaking. I cheered when Mark Brayne hinted that it was time to quit. I cursed Christiane Amanpour for telling you not to. I wanted your letter to your family to be an announcement of a new beginning, not a sorry-but-I-had-to-do-it justification. (As long as we’re chronicling my mood swings, I laughed when you contemplated coming back to the US to report on “guns and crime” as if that was like taking the gardening beat!)

    War reporters often talk about their vocation as an addiction, a kind of mental illness. It’s an itch you need to scratch, something you hope to grow out of before you’ve burned through too many spouses and offspring (not to mention your liver). But clearly it has social rewards — membership in the tribe, the admiration of strangers, the tragic-epic-romantic possibilities of a dramatic public death. You’re not a solitary climber scaling some far mountain, battling inner demons, or a frustrated salaryman popping pills. You’re a professional eyewitness, a fundamentally public person, and your drama is broadcast to millions. Even producing this hour about your inner struggle is a public act.

    So a question that’s probably too vague to answer: What do you make of the public-ness of it all? Would Nik Wallenda tightrope walk over the Grand Canyon if no one were watching? Would you take the same sorts of risks if you had no audience?

    • Kelly McEvers says:

      So good to read your thoughts, Jon. You’ll be happy to know I finally, finally have decided to leave the war-reporting business. We’re coming back to America; I’ll be working as a reporter. I think a lot about the public-ness of it all, and I worry about how people in this business get egos that get in the way of reason. So I’m blowing it all up, starting over. That, I think, will be scarier than any trip to Syria I ever took. Hope to see you soon!

    • Gerald Gray, LCSW says:

      Jon Miller:

      The answer to your question in your last question is yes–almost. Think mountaineers, for instance. The motives for participating in the sport are different from those of war correspondents (see below my response here on 9/11/13), but in several significant regards there is similarity. For traumatized climbers (vets, or climbers surviving accidents) the most significant regard may be the use of danger to overcome emotional numbing. Also there is the membership in a community (“the tribe”), stories of danger and derring-do, status with whatever small public there is (eg, tourists in Yosemite, and recently the NPR public).

      Mountaineers I know at first hand, having climbed for 10 years, ending as a climbing guide in Canada. In those years I had three friends die in climbing accidents, but that didn’t cause me to quit a dangerous sport. Political involvement did, and then starting a family caused further cutting back from dangerous political work (eg, with The Deacons for Defense in Louisiana, the only openly armed part of the Southern civil rights movement). Attachments can give us pause and a chance to escape the influence of the worst PTSD and related symptoms, but that doesn’t always work fast–sometimes not at all (cf domestic violence by returning combat vets).

      The voluntary choice of dangerous activity should always be examined for motive, especially if it has involved trauma, and even more so if it is human-induced trauma.

      Gerald Gray, LCSW

  • Catherine Stifter says:

    Kelly, Thanks for your willingness to turn your reporting skills on yourself. Not to mine your life in the pursuit of story, but to lift the veil and “out” yourself as human. You are a smart, compassionate human being looking at this world and trying to explain it to herself and all of us, too. To be in it and of it at the same time. To simply speak the truth: that reporters can be deeply affected by this work; by the insatiable curiosity that makes us run toward the story or not look away or want to tell the whole truth, not just the sliver of the truth that is acceptable to or anticipated by our audiences. Bravo.

  • Paige says:

    Thank you for your moving and touching story. I battled the dilemma of leaving journalism for two years after my daughter was born – although I covered the U.S./ Mexico border, which is significantly safer – I finally decided to leave journalism and pursue a completely different career. I realized that my constant worry and guilt was making me unsafe… but six years later I still miss the adrenaline rush of a great news day. Your story made me realize that the battle between what I felt I should do and what I wanted to do is one that’s shared and on-going. And the question is it worth it, is one that was never far from my mind. I think what you did, and vulnerability that you showed took amazing courage – and I am so grateful to have heard your story.

  • David Howard says:

    Thank you, Kelly, for providing such a moving and powerful account. I will never again be able to hear reports from war correspondence without being acutely aware of the dangers that they face. Thank you too to your family, Kelly, for enduring the worry and fear that they must go through every day, in order for you to do your work.

  • Alex Chadwick says:

    Kelly and Jay – Terrifying and beautiful. Thank you. Alex

  • Riveting and candid. Thank you for bringing me and my fellow Americans this incredible story over the years. An Arab woman once told me that the Prophet Mohammed said all people have various rights over one another…POWs have rights to demand of their captors, the poor have rights over the Caliph…and even our children, she said, have some rights over us as parents. That last one is the part that I thought about most in your stark documentary.

  • Justin says:

    This was a fantastic piece. I wish you the best luck where ever you are working and joy in your next endeavors, whatever they may be.

  • JM Brown MD says:

    My wife and I volunteered to teach in a high school in the Kurdish region of Iraq for the 2011-2012 school year. Ours was a marvelous experience, with my wife working as the school nurse and teaching journalism to over 40 students. She spent 2- 3 hours preparing for each session, 5 days a week. Our school’s website is www dot csmedes dot org. There was tragedy; we lost a devoted fellow teacher who was shot and killed by one of his students if front of a classroom full of grade 11 students All in all this year was more fulfilling than any one of my more than 20 year active duty career in the US Army. We made many new friends for life, both amongst our students and their parents. Regards, JM Brown MD, COL US Army, Ret’d

    • Kelly McEvers says:

      I remember when that happened. So tragic. I’m so glad you had the chance to live in and love the region that I called home for so long. A piece of my heart will always be there.

  • Very touching story. Had to stop the car and listen. You are simply amazing.

  • Jack says:

    Kelly-This fantastic piece of work provokes so many thoughts and touches on so many emotions. You and Jay have done an amazing job of putting this all together; really a masterpiece. I have listened to you, Jule McCarthy, and so many others do such fantastic reporting from the dangerous and difficult places over many years and am always in awe of what you do. (Also thankful) Beyond all that, this documentary takes us through a process that I know benefits me on many levels as I listen to others and then make decisions. I know from this piece that you truly are an amazing human being and that your husband and daughter are very fortunate.

  • Natalie Van Staden says:

    brilliant.

  • monicagerber says:

    I work with refugees who have resettled in the United States to pursue new lives, so your story hit me in a special way. Thank you for your sincere and poeticly personal reflections. I am so familiar with the sound of your voice reporting over my radio, and I appreciate hearing “the other side” of the life you and others live. The risks you take are so meaningful and I hope you do feel the immense appreciation we (listeners et al.) have for you and the work you do. Thank you.

  • Chris Kallaher says:

    This was a really great and moving piece, but I have to admit that from where I am now (53 year year old male, married with 3 kids) it seems to me that the answer was in front of you the whole time, and that is that you already made your decision when you decided to have a child. It’s all well and good to be a brave, risk-taking journalist doing important work to bring the truth to the world but, at least for me (someone who might otherwise have been inclined to do just such work), having a child is making a promise, a promise with many levels and dimensions, the most fundamental of which is the promise that you’ll be there for your child as much as you possibly can. Many war correspondents who have been killed have had children, some even small children, and it always seemed to me that they just ran out of time to see the nature of the decisions they had made and the incompatibility of their lifestyle with their obligations to their children. I hope that you are one of the lucky ones who can take your incredible experiences and share them with the world – and your child – until a ripe old age.

  • Michelle Houston says:

    Just listened to the program this evening, and I have been so moved, both intellectually and emotionally. Jay, thank you for having the vision to bring us this immensely personal glimpse into the public voice that brings us news at the edge of the world. Kelly, thank you SO much for your bravery in allowing us in to your intimate struggle and for the bravery you exhibit every day as you balance your family with your service — because it is service, just as a much as a soldier’s work — in telling the truths that we might not otherwise know or understand. Your story has made me so much more aware and grateful for the work of foreign correspondents. What you do as a journalist and what you do as a wife and mother are both invaluable, and I hope you get to enjoy both for a very long time.

  • Kelly, I am right there with Jon Miller, because you are a friend. My concern for you is not based in fear, but in reality…knowing the risks. A journalist was killed in West Virginia, similar to Michael Hastings death in LA…on a story I had been working on. In war , your danger is in front of your eyes. In America it lurks and is hidden. And it is getting darker here every month. I can say , “be careful,” and know that you are, as much as possible. But I also know you will not stop. This story is a great story, because it is totally honest..with yourself and with those of us who love you. I pray for you.

  • Cassie says:

    Beautiful story. Beautiful letter to your husband and daughter. Be safe and know that your work is valued and important.

  • Joan Schuman says:

    The story was amazing for all the reasons people have mentioned. I’m surprised at the silence around the biggest question not raised in the piece, regarding the responsibility of news organizations to push further and further into dangerous zones of conflict. By each organization’s push, audiences crave more. So, who is addicted here?

    • Kelly McEvers says:

      Joan, I can honestly say that my news organization did not push me into war; I pushed myself. Other news organizations might not overtly push their reporters, but the competitive nature of a newsroom means we feel compelled to do risky things. I’m not sure it’s about news consumers who are addicted to bang-bang stories. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that careers are made in war zones — we get awards, raises, and promotions for covering war. Perhaps that makes us push ourselves too much.

  • Ann says:

    Incredible storytelling. Kelly, thank you for your work professionally, and thank you for sharing this vulnerable piece of your life.

  • sam says:

    Hi Kelly – A couple of comments have come over the Transom for you from people who were at your speaking event in Woods Hole. I thought I’d post them here so you can respond. — Sam

    Hello Kelly, Viki suggested I send you my question I didn’t get to ask the other night in Woods Hole. My dad was a WWII war correspondent and following your talk I realized how little he and we talked about it. In terms of your larger “tribe,” do you ever get to gather together w/correspondents from past wars? Thanks so much for your story and enjoy your new posting and life with your family. And thank you for your war years. Denise Backus

    and

    Remarkable and fascinating story from a hero of democracy risking her life to witness for us – thank you Kelly and APM. Her narration voice and cadence came across as much younger and less serious than Kelly in person, Kelly the reporter, and the intense subject matter. The impact of her hands-on mothering experiences versus her war zone experiences far outweighed experts’ testimony and I wished for more of those stories. We can’t measure the adrenaline and dopamine, but we can feel the power of daily caring for her baby vs the tangible meaning and cost of war for soldiers and civilians. The letter might be left for our imagination. We are writing the letter in our heads from its first mention. Nancy Bundy

  • Kelly, thanks for a look into our heads. I loved living in Viet-Nam 68-70. I loved returning to SEA in 02 for some closure. I love volunteering at the VA Hospital in Dallas, teaching creative writing in their Veteran Recovery Center [PTSD, addiction, brain trauma]. I love writing to keep the wolves at bay. As my 101st Airborne brother said, It’s a hell of lot of fun…unless you get killed. Brother also reminded me: Watch your 6:00. Enjoy your journey on the “write” track. [Air America widow Jon Merkel KIA Laos 18 Feb 70].

  • Gerald Gray, LCSW, Institute for Redress & Recovery, Santa Clara University School of Law says:

    I have been a psychotherapist to refugee survivors of torture for 23 years, and before that to Vietnam combat vets and other trauma survivors. All my work now is in the trauma field, either to bring clinical support to torture survivors or to track their torturers in the U.S. and Canada and bring them to justice.

    I have a different view of why war correspondents keep returning to danger. It is most often missed even by psychotherapists, and certainly by people who seem compelled to return to danger. I hope it is helpful here.

    Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome has 17 symptoms. Not everyone traumatized gets PTSD, and I’ve only seen a few with the syndrome who had all the symptoms (from her text, I counted eight that Kelly had). Nonetheless, my observation is that people who return consistently into human-caused danger–sometimes even while thinking they should not–are caught particularly between one PTSD symptom and an associated one (not a PTSD symptom) that interact to construct a compulsion of sorts.

    The PTSD symptom is emotional numbing, and the related or associated one is behavior that is self-destructive. I have heard interviews with separate war correspondents who, when asked why they repeatedly returned to the extreme danger of the job–death or crippling–aside from remarks about the need to inform the public, strongly asserted that there was nothing that made them feel more alive than being in this danger.

    If you have to risk death to feel alive, you are in trouble. They were trying to overcome emotional numbing, and it is not only war correspondents I have seen this in. It explains the professional soldier or guerrilla in some cases–where money, patriotism, revenge, or survivor guilt has not completed the explanation in a patient.

    None of these symptoms are helped by the existence of another PTSD symptom: foreshortened future, which causes belief that there is none, that life is inevitably short. Thus more vulnerability to other behaviors such as increased drinking or drug use, which have their own engines, and you have a nasty picture.

    Under the influence of these and other symptoms, it is hard to self-monitor. It is useful, at least when you ask yourself why you do this work and feel you cannot stop even for good reason, it is useful then to see a trauma specialist when you return from assignment. At least once, to check in–and there are some good pro bono clinical sources worldwide in the various torture treatment centers (some 25 in the U.S. alone). Good sources for information in the U.S. and also worldwide are The Center for Victims of Torture in Minnesota, and IRCT in Denmark (irct.org).

    The hardest letter some of you will ever write is not the one saying goodbye to loved ones in case you die. It is the one in which you try to explain why you constantly abandon them, come back changed, and threaten to make permanent one form of loss or the other.

    There is reason to do some of the work some of the time, but not all of it all of the time by everyone.

  • Paddi Clay says:

    As the child of a foreign correspondent killed in action in the Congo in the 60′s who has also been a correspondent in conflict zones I also have a push- pull relationship with journalism and conflict. It has taken me a long time to get over the feeling of betrayal, the knowledge that my father made a choice, left me at home and went into dangerous places, where eventually he did get shot. His body never came back – and for many years as a child I dreamed that I would turn a corner in a foreign land and see him..
    I too have felt the tug towards the smoke, and the sounds of gunfire, and sheer rush of being there and I can now appreciate what drove him. But when I became a mother, I no longer had the ability to put myself at risk for a story – and I pulled out of field work. These are choices we make. Whatever the choice you make it has to work for you. When it stops working, stop doing it.

  • Darrell says:

    I often wake up in the early morning and listen to public radio. I’ve listened to some great some stories in the past and yours was no exception. You had my full attention as I lay in my bed captivated by your story. When you said that being a “war corresponded” was fun and exciting and can totally empathize with that frame of mind. After your conversion with Anna Blundy and you decided not to travel to Syria I breathed a sigh of relief. After your talk with other journalists about writing “that” letter, well I thought about writing such a letter as well. Don’t mistake me, my life is not a life of danger on the level of “war corresponded” but none the less I travel and have put myself in questionable situation. And when you and others realized and expressed how your actions affect those left behind, I was deeply touched. A moving piece of radio and every time I recall your story my eyes wet with emotion. Bravo.

  • Viv says:

    This piece was a fantastic listen: enthralling, honest, expertly put together. Such great voices: Kelly, Jon, Anna, Christiane. Kelly’s mental health, her her family obligations, and her possibly addictive personality were all treated in a candid and balanced way. However, I found the lack of Syrian voices in the piece, and the use of Kelly’s frightening reportage as filler, to be an awkward editorial decision. Does Kelly have friends in Syria? People she fights for or feels she can represent? I would have liked to hear from or about them. Without them, Syrians are only ‘dudes with guns’. We hear very little of the viewpoint that war reporting might really be a vocation rather than a cool way of impressing friends and staving off workplace boredom. Kelly’s problem is a serious one but the scale of the Syrian conflict mocks it from the sidelines. I would be really, really interested in hearing whether Kelly and Jay had to make some difficult decisions in scripting and editing this to make sure Kelly was in focus here, whilst not relegating international conflicts to an ‘awesome’ backdrop for our heroic reporter’s domestic dilemma. Thank you!

  • Ralph

    Kelly McEvers psych session on the hidden dimension of war/danger reporting was insightful, sensitive, and human consistent with her customary style. It was an extraordinary piece of psychologically pealing back the layers of emotions and biology. It made me think of my being in conflict areas in my 20s and at 65 crossing valleys on the barest of rope bridges (if that’s what they could be called) in Nepal. In questioning my doing these things today made me appreciate her exploration and questioning. Her letter should be heard by everyone. All of us, certainly parents, have a charge to leave a letter for our loved ones. The kind of letter is is needed to clean up relationships.

  • colin murphy says:

    I heard this piece, by chance, on our local PBS station. A lot of what I heard resonated with personal experience. I work with a “faith-based NGO” and I know many others who do as well. While a war correspondent’s job is much more dangerous, I can certainly identify with a lot of what was said. The “rush” of being in a faraway place, with strangers, seeing things that are completely different from “at home”. I love the reporting; I grieve the losses. Best, crm

  • Sandra Wylie says:

    Kelly, please don’t get yourself killed. Aside from your daughter and husband needing you, you’re too good a journalist. The world needs your talent.

  • Dana Trump says:

    Being a person that broke out of a very safe and traditional upbringing by traveling and living abroad, and eventually working for the UN in a conflict zone, I was completely fascinated to hear Kelly’s accounts and questioning of why she felt different and sought such extreme experiences. I ended up marrying a Macedonian co-worker, becoming pregnant and making the (hard) choice to return to the US to a ‘normal’ job and a mundane daily existence (which is a struggle, I will say).

    I guess the thought that struck me long and hard while in the conflict zone, and while listening to Kelly’s story, is that we are so privileged to be able to make that choice, to be able to choose to ‘quit.’ The people on the ‘other side’ of our stories do not have that luxury…

  • Gerald Gray says:

    Kera, I’d be interested in your assessment of the post I left yesterday (9/11/13).

    Gerald Gray, LCSW

Links to “Diary of a Bad Year: A War Correspondent’s Dilemma”

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