Capturing the News: Three Decades of Reporting Crisis and Conflict by Anthony Collings
Name a hot spot, and Collings has likely been there. From AP correspondent to Newsweek bureau chief to CNN reporter, he covered the Middle East, Rome, Moscow, London, Paris, and Washington. Now he has gathered stories about his work in a book that is both a journalist's memoir and a commentary on the current ethical crises in the news media and how to address them. Collings reveals the dangers and pressures of covering the news and the difficulties of overcoming obstacles to the truth.
Q: What was your most dangerous story?
Covering fighting in Beirut in the early 1980s. I was captured and held for several hours by unidentified gunmen and Syrian forces during a 1981 missile crisis in Lebanon. Also I was in buildings or vehicles that came under shell fire several times in 1981 and 1982. I was in a hotel in East Beirut that was hit by a bomb.
Q: What was your favorite story as a journalist?
My most satisfying story was a Newsweek piece about a divided Czech family. The parents had fled to West Germany during the Cold War but their children were not permitted to leave by the Communist Czech government. After my story, and those of other journalists, the Czech government relented and let the children rejoin their parents. I will never forget seeing one of the little girls hugging her mother, who was blind, when the children arrived at the train station in Germany.
Q: What is the main theme of your book?
It is a combined personal memoir and critique of journalism that gives my thoughts about the profession. Its main theme is that journalism, for all its faults, is an honorable profession that serves the public interest, and is all the more needed in these times of change and challenge.
Q: What is your main critique of journalism today?
Too much opinion. I am a believer in the idea of “just the facts,” hard news reporting. I fear that once journalists start giving their personal slant on the news, even if it is dressed up as “news analysis,” the audience no longer trusts the journalists to be as objective as is humanly possible.
Q: Are journalists biased?
I get this question a lot from audiences. The simple answer is that journalists, being human beings, naturally have feelings, but the professional ones try to keep their personal feelings from distorting the truth. The best ones are as objective as is humanly possible. Most journalists are decent and honorable, and want to find out the truth and report it to the public so that citizens can make informed decisions.
Q: What do you think about the future of journalism?
It is impossible to predict, given the highly changeable nature of technology including the Internet as a means of gathering and distributing news, and changing market conditions, but in general I would say that there will always be a need for a reliable, truthful account of what is happening in the world. Although some printed newspapers and magazines are dying, and other changes are taking place, I remain optimistic about the survival of news media in one form or another.