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Syria Direct Brings Authentic News From The Frontlines

Lior Haykeen |
September 12, 2013 | 5:03 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

When rumors began about the Syrian regime’s responsibility for killing more than 1,400 civilians with chemical weapons in northeast Damascus, governments and organizations around the world searched for evidence to back up the claims.

Some said the rumors are false, others insisted the rebel forces used chemical weapons as a form of retaliation.

Universtity of Southern California Alum Jacob Wirtschafter said this was the toughest part for him and his small team of Syrian and American journalists at the news organization, Syria Direct. The organization trains Syrian journalists in Amman, Jordan, in professional newsgathering, while using their connections and understanding of Syria to verify information and single out each day’s significant stories.

Syria Direct’s journalist-trainees recently talked to victims and their families to find out what really happened to make sure Americans know what exactly is happening in Syria.

When trying to verify what really happened, Wirtschafter said many Syrians were frustrated that nothing has been done to stop Assad. His journalists often received responses like:

“How many people have to die before you believe that these guys used chemical weapons against us?”

“This is real gas. It really happened. The dictator really used it. And we have a big problem.”

Wirtschafter has worked with prominent news organizations around the world before taking up his managing editor position at Syria Direct, and he says America needs more information before suggesting a military intervention of any kind.

“We were so misled in Iraq, so there’s a very high assessment bar to verify information before the U.S. gets involved,” said Wirtschafter.

He also sees a necessity for every generation to have critical thinkers in media production to hold power accountable while keeping the high standards of truth and transparency.

Many times the organization’s trainees see stories posted on Facebook, then track down the post writer and verify information from them, said Gabriel Bernadett-Shapiro, graphic designer and content strategist with Syria Direct.

Shapiro is a second-year student at USC’s Masters of Public Diplomacy program. He works with Wirtschafter from Los Angeles to ensure the organization uses the most current and relevant tools.

After years of working with the Kuwait Times, the Jerusalem Post and ABC News, Wirtschafter sees the current conflict from a perspective of a professional journalist working in the Middle East.

Russia is currently acting out of interest for gas and oil, he said.

“Who would have known that this many years after the end of the Cold War the people in Syria could be just a chess piece in Russia’s strategy?” he said in response to Russia’s recent call to compromise with Syria by putting their chemical weapons under UN supervision.

Wirtschafter finds it frightening that the U.S. takes into account the declarations of a president who has been providing military and economic support to the Syrian regime, while knowing that they have been killing 200,000 and displaced two million people, he added.

“It doesn’t matter whether these people died of chemical or conventional weapons,” said Shapiro. “They were still killed.”

The information verified by Syria Direct after the Ghouta attacks on August 21 caused a great interest from governments, news organizations and non-political bodies. 

“They knew we had access to first-hand witnesses,” said Wirtschafter. “I was able to share what we knew, and felt good about it.”

After a week-long visit in L.A., Wirtschafter will return to Jordan next Thursday to continue his work of educating Syrian journalists and obtaining accurate and honest information that can often only be accessed from the region, and then sharing it with Americans.

Reach Staff Reporter Lior Haykeen here




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