There is a critical need for journalists to expand their coverage of the Taliban and al Qaida conflict to include more reporting on Afghan society, the groups’ influence in Pakistan and a deeper understanding of U.S. national security interests in the region, experts said at a Medill Washington Program panel discussion.

Fifty working journalists, military analysts and officers and Medill graduate students attended the panel, “Afghanistan: What Journalists Need to Know Now.” The timely session—as the Obama administration reformulates its Afghanistan plan–marked the first professional development offering of the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative.

Washington Post military reporter Ann Scott-Tyson, recently returned from Afghanistan, told reporters to “see for yourself and go back over time to see the evolution” of counterinsurgency efforts. She also advised looking beyond combat and military strategy to provide more comprehensive coverage of the situation in Afghanistan that includes the stresses on society.

Another panelist, Joseph Collins of the National War College and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense, insisted that context and following an issue over time is crucial to understanding and accurately reporting on Afghanistan. “The war is different in every valley,” he said. “Avoid the echo and get facts first-hand.”
He also suggested the news media focuses too much on military and political issues, while a counterinsurgency strategy relies mainly on actions other than battles — humanitarian aid, building infrastructure and strengthening the rule of law.

Medill Professor Ellen Shearer, co-director of the school’s new three-year national security initiative funded by the McCormick Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation, said such discussions give journalists a keener understanding of the issues and the tensions that contribute to national security strategy in the Obama administration.

Other panelists included leading authorities on counterinsurgency, Conrad Crane, a military historian at the Army War College; Dan Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute; and John Wood of the Near East and South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National War College.

The Medill National Security Journalism Initiative is funded by three-year grants from the McCormick Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation.