University alumnus David Enders said he was motivated to go to Baghdad by a desire to “do something” about the war in Iraq.
Enders spoke at the University Book Fair on Saturday about his experience starting and publishing a bi-monthly magazine in Baghdad after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
“It was definitely the craziest thing I’ve ever done — and I wouldn’t hesitate a second to do it again,” Enders said.
Enders left the University to study at the American University in Beirut for his final semester, in order to prove to people that the Middle East was not too dangerous a place for an American to live.
“I like proving to people that their preconceptions are misconceptions,” he writes in his book, “Baghdad Bulletin”, which details his experience in Iraq.
Funded by what he calls “upper-crust British philanthropy,” Enders and a team of about a dozen other ambitious twentysomethings paid their way to Baghdad and worked for free to run the magazine. In the opening of his book, Enders describes the vitality of having an English publication in Baghdad.
“It is extremely important to have English-language reporting here on the ground right now because English speakers (the Coalition especially) are going to be making most of the decisions — it’s an unfortunate fact, but they should be making them based on good information, and there should be a publication here to challenge and examine those decisions (in English) as well.”
One of the other leaders of the project was Ralph Hassel, who was studying Arabic in Lebanon just after he graduated from Oxford. Hassel met Enders in Beirut and convinced him to come to Baghdad to run the magazine with him. Enders said the magazine was originally Hassel’s mother’s idea, but that he and Ralph put it into action.
When the Baghdad Bulletin was published from March to September 2003, Enders and the rest of the staff encountered unimaginable difficulties producing the paper.
During the time they were in Iraq, 17 journalists were killed between March and July of 2003.
Among those killed was a 24-year old British reporter named Richard Wild.
Enders said when the mostly British staff learned about Wild’s death, they felt like he was one of them.
“This was the first real instance that a journalist had been killed on purpose, and all of a sudden the war became very real again. Despite the fact that people were being killed on our front lawn, we were slipping into a false sense of security.”
Enders also encountered difficulty trying to operate as an independent news source. Due a combination of factors, including inexperience and a lack of credibility, Enders said that he and the other reporters had difficulty getting access to press conferences and other sources at the beginning, but they eventually they overcame these difficulties. Enders said other papers began checking The Bulletin for story ideas.
“We would see our stories being picked up and re-written by other outlets,” Enders said.
Enders said one of the biggest challenges of printing the paper was the unreliable electricity.
“We couldn’t afford a large enough generator to run the presses, which meant that we could only print when the national power was on,” Enders said.
He said that there were days when the power was only on for only four to five hours, and that it was generally never on longer than 12. Because of this it sometimes took them three days to print 10,000 copies.
Enders plans on heading back to Iraq, in preparation for writing a book about democracy in the Middle East.