Reporter’s Notebook: Covering Russia’s Ukraine war as an American correspondent
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ODESA, Ukraine — A guy here in Odesa who imported furniture was now helping refugees. I interviewed him for eight minutes. I was looking for a 15-second soundbite. He talked about people who arrived from bombed-out cities with nothing.
After the interview, the photographer, Pohl, went to film tables of empty sneakers lined up in pairs. The furniture importer came over to me and said he was Jewish.
Then he said in English, “It’s like a second genocide. First they kill us because we’re Jewish. Now they kill us… because we’re Ukrainian.”
Often, the most pivotal sound bites happen right after the camera goes off.
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I got used to making one-minute thirty-second reports in Chechnya. Two soundbites, a standup, three graphs of track. Start with the strongest video, put the blocks together, a minute thirty.
Then it was film, look at video, write to pictures, edit, feed a taped report, a several-day process. Now it is talk, live over pictures.
The role of fixer is near the bottom rung in TV. Usually you know two languages and help a Western crew get around in a bad place. Then, fixers learn the next job up. They don’t fly home. Regions of unrest like South Africa or Yugoslavia produce a generation of producers and reporters.
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My first job as a fixer was to tell the Russian driver when the American correspondent wanted to go back to the bureau for lunch. When low on rubles, the American correspondent would ask for “googles.”
“Get me some googles,” he would say, ahead of his time.
Next, I held a light on a famous anchor in Red Square.
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“Good evening from Moscow,” he would say, then again and again. I can still hear it. Gorbachev had just resigned from the Communist Party. Nine times, Good evening from Moscow. Good evening.
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Air raid siren here in Odesa, a long, steady whine. It took me a moment to realize what it was. People continued to walk on the sidewalk in a normal pace, mothers with children, small dogs on leashes. They expect the missiles will fly over Odesa.