War News Radio Alums
Put Journo Skills to Work
by Mariam Zakhary '13
War News Radio's (WNR) mission is to provide balanced and in-depth reporting, historical perspective, and personal stories about the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since its founding in 2005, it has also provided dozens of students with not only a deeper understanding of international affairs, but a wide-ranging set of reporting and news production skills. The following are some of the program's alumni who continue to draw on those skills in their current work.
As a communications and research assistant at the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C., Wren Elhai '08 examines the effectiveness of U.S. foreign aid and how it could have a greater impact on development in poor countries. After graduating, he spent a year as a Thomas J. Watson Fellow, living and studying with traditional vocalists in Tuva (Russian Federation), India, South Africa, and Europe. Wren describes working on WNR as a "transformational experience" that "for many of us was the defining element of our Swarthmore careers. This is borne out in what we've done since graduating."
Jess Engebretson '09, a WNR senior producer and co-founder of the Darfur Radio Project, also won a Watson Fellowship and chose to focus on peace and reconciliation radio projects in places recovering from conflict. She started in Indonesia, moved to Liberia, and is now in Rwanda. "My goal is to try to understand how people in these three very different societies are using radio to heal the wounds of past conflicts," she says. Jess credits WNR with teaching her the skills that are essential to her project such as audio editing, interviewing, and working with all sorts of people in a time-crunched and stressful environment. "A lot of what I've been interested in this year is how producers create stories that draw listeners in and foster empathy," she says. "WNR was one of the first places I started to think consciously about how that process works."
As a broadcast associate at 60 Minutes, Reuben Heyman-Kantor '06 contributed to "The Cost of Dying," a look at the common practice of prolonging people's lives at enormous cost. This spring, the report won a Peabody Award, which recognizes excellence in broadcasting. "When people at 60 Minutes and around the business ask me how I started my career, the first thing out of my mouth is my work at War News Radio," he says. "Without the skills and direction I gained from the year and a half I spent at WNR, I would not be where I am today."
After she graduated as an honors history major with a minor in French, WNR co-founder Amelia Templeton '06 traveled to Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon to report on the two million Iraqi refugees who had fled the country. She also contributed research to the 60 Minutes report on Iraqi allies, "Left Behind," interviewing dozens of former translators, housekeepers, engineers, and drivers. In 2007, she joined Lifeline for Iraqi Refugees at Human Rights First, where she continued to advocate for those displaced by the war. She also worked for Marketplace radio and as a freelance journalist, contributing stories to American Public Media and National Public Radio. Amelia recently returned to her home state to join Oregon Public Broadcasting as a reporter and producer.
At WNR, Elizabeth Threlkeld '09 covered the refugee crisis in Iraq, the unemployment problems, and the role of oil in the country's economy. "I reported on hard news and political developments," she says, "but my favorite stories were always the ones that managed to get at what life was like for the people usually left out of the headlines." In 2008, Elizabeth received an award from the Society of Professional Journalists for one of them, "A Story of Two Nose Jobs" (mp3). Now, as the radio and new media coordinator for an NGO in Iraqi Kurdistan, she lives and blogs from Sulaimaniyah, Iraq. "I'm helping to get a handful of radio and media projects up and running, trying to expand opportunities for Iraqis to share their stories and to empower the journalists reporting them," she says. "It's challenging, frustrating, and thrilling in equal measure and every day I thank my lucky stars that I'm able to devote countless hours to Iraq once again."
Hansi Wang '09 joined WNR as a first-year student and later founded Chinatown Youth Radio Philadelphia. After graduation, he served as a refugee housing coordinator for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and Council Migration Service of Philadelphia. This spring, he won an NPR Kroc Fellowship, one of just three awarded in the country. Beginning next month, Hansi will get hands-on training in every aspect of public radio journalism and will work primarily at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.