Unlike most of our competitors, we like to put bylines on all our major stories, even when they come from one of the wire agencies such as Reuters, the Associated Press or Agence France-Presse (AFP). But occasionally, as on Friday’s front page, we run an article under the simple, small-type credit “From combined dispatches.”
What does that mean?
Generally, it means that none of the wire services had all the information that we thought belonged in the story, so one of our editors put together his or her own story using bits and pieces from two or more agency stories.
Occasionally we insert material from one of our own reporters as well. In that case we add a credit line with the name of the reporter at the bottom of the story.
We might rewrite whole sections of the story to make sure it flows logically, but we take care not to change any facts. Where appropriate, we note in the body of the story which agency reported a particular fact or provided a specific quote.
Friday’s combined dispatches story dealt with a particularly nasty day in Iraq.
Early accounts of one attack near the town of Khaldiya quoted one Arabic language satellite station saying eight Americans had been killed — more than in any single incident since the end of the war. That claim was largely discounted when the U.S. military reported only two wounded, but it remained clear there had been a major firefight of some three hours duration.
The AP had what we considered the best constructed story, and so we used that as a basic skeleton. It began like this:
“KHALDIYA, Iraq (AP) — Guerrillas ambushed two U.S. military convoys with remote-controlled bombs in separate attacks Thursday, wounding two Americans and sparking a heavy gunbattle in which a 20-year-old man was shot in the chest and two trucks were destroyed.”
The story also referred in the first few paragraphs to an incident in which American troops had mistakenly fired on a wedding party, killing a 14-year-old boy, and what appeared to be a sabotage attack on a major oil pipeline.
But what drew us to the AP was that it had a reporter and photographer on the site of the battle near Khaldiya and contained a vivid description of four tanks and a helicopter circling a crippled vehicle as U.S. soldiers fired randomly at unseen enemies.
The AP team also described coming under fire from one of the tanks, which shot out the windows and tires of their car.
But we also liked a version of the story filed by the French news agency, Agence France-Presse, which quoted witnesses describing badly burned Americans being pulled out of the ambushed vehicle, and had a vivid account of some 300 Iraqi residents dancing joyously as the Americans withdrew.
AFP also pointed out that the attacks came just a day after the broadcast of a new audiotape, purportedly from Saddam Hussein, calling for stepped-up attacks on Americans.
The AFP lead:
“KHALDIYA, Iraq (AFP) — A U.S. convoy took heavy casualties in an ambush here Thursday, witnesses said, as Iraq erupted in a spate of anti-U.S. attacks after the release of another purported message from Saddam Hussein.”
The lead we constructed combined what we considered the best elements from each of the services and came out like this:
“KHALDIYA, Iraq — Guerrillas ambushed two U.S. military convoys with remote-controlled bombs yesterday as Iraq erupted in a spate of anti-U.S. attacks after the release of another purported message from Saddam Hussein.”
The balance of the story combined our favorite elements from the two articles. But before the night ended, three more Americans were reported killed in yet another incident and the lead had to be rewritten again.
David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com.