March 27, 2001 - Inside Medill News: Morocco RPCV Sarah Chayes Reports on Life in the Trenches

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Morocco RPCV Sarah Chayes Reports on Life in the Trenches

Caption: Sarah Chayes of NPR and Adam Brooks of the BBC, after the fall of Kabul, but before the Taliban fell, in a town just inside Afghanistan called Spin Boldak. People on the walls stare at the journalists while they apply sunscreen to their faces.

Read and comment on this story from Inside Medill News on Morocco RPCV Sarah Chayes and how she practices journalism at:

Chayes Reports on Life in the Trenches*

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Chayes Reports on Life in the Trenches

by Kari Neumeyer, MSJ01

PARIS -- The first lesson of the Spring 2001 Paris seminars came March 19 from a National Public Radio reporter who said if we were going to cover a war, we should really cover the war.

"The foreign press corps in Kosovo didn't do our job; we sat on the border," NPR's Sarah Chayes told our group of 11 graduate students about to begin 10-week residencies abroad at various sites, including the Associated Press in Jerusalem.

Chayes, an American, did freelance radio pieces for six years before NPR hired her to be their sole Paris-based correspondent three years ago. She said she can't imagine doing anything else, but journalism wasn't her first career choice. "I really wanted to work in the public prosecutor's office in Kansas City," she said.

Chayes was supposed to speak to the class Tuesday but had to reschedule because NPR asked her to go to Macedonia to cover the Albanian insurgency. She said she prefers being in the trenches to covering the "Aren't the French quaint?" beat.

"I don't want to spend my life entertaining upper-middle-class Americans with the foibles of upper-middle-class Europeans," she said.

Although she said she sometimes falls victim to the "existential blues" of foreign correspondents, wondering if what she does has any impact on anything, she added, "If I have obliged a certain number of Americans to realize that America isn't the only country in the world then I'm satisfied."

It's lonely to be a bureau of one, Chayes said. She has zero personal life. "There is no conceivable way I can have kids," she said.

"I have tended to avoid journalists because I was afraid of the homogeneity of perspective," she added. Still, on the occasions she collaborated with a print reporter, she said she felt an intellectual explosion.

Chayes told the broadcast students to avoid the tendency to structure a story before they've shot it. "Don't prepare," she said. "You should learn something when you go out reporting."

She added that preparation should consist of making sure you have enough cable and tape. "Reporting is a traumatic experience anyway," she said.

And though she said she doesn't like it when The New York Times breaks a story she's been working on, making it look like she picked it up from them, she said she doesn't think scoops counted.

Chayes advised students not to use someone else`s life story as a model for their own journalistic careers, but she did urge us to challenge themselves. "Presented with an option, take the hard way," she said."Every time I've backed off of something that's a bit spooky I've regretted it."

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