Battlepanda: Who is Kevin Sites?


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Who is Kevin Sites?

I initially dismissed Kevin Sites, Yahoo's first News correspondent, as a bit of an novelty. I turned off one of his video dispatches after a few seconds because it seemed flakey. I mistakenly thought he is too buff, too tousled, maybe a little bit too excitable, to be serious.

I was wrong. This dude is good. Bandana or no.

Kevin Sites works alone, except for his interpreters. He writes in the first-person. He takes his own pictures and videos. He does both first-hand eyewitness reporting as well as some good interview-and-analysis stuff. I recommend this succinct and even-handed summing up of the conflict thus far.
By any standard, disarming Hezbollah was not an easy thing for Lebanon to do politically or militarily. The great fear was that any attempt could lead to renewed civil war.

Through democratic elections, Hezbollah became a significant part of the Lebanese government in 2005, taking 23 seats in parliament through an alliance with another Shia party, Amal.

And Hezbollah's militia is widely considered a resistance force in Lebanon, even by some who oppose them politically. The militia has taken credit for ending Israel's long occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000. (The occupation was first aimed at destroying
Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization, which was attacking Israel from Lebanon. Later, Israel focused on undermining the Syrian and Hezbollah presence on in southern Lebanon.)

The latest confrontation has escalated so quickly that it threatens to spark a region-wide conflict.

One Middle East source with an intimate knowledge of Hezbollah, who wishes to remain anonymous because he's still involved in back-channel negotiations, says that Hezbollah's July 12 kidnapping of the two IDF soldiers was instigated, in part, by the earlier reneging by the Israeli government on a prisoner swap with Hezbollah.

"These kind of kidnappings are perpetrated by both sides," says the source. "The Israelis have routinely landed helicopters in Lebanon, scooped up people and taken them back to Israel. It's nothing so extraordinary."

Nothing but the timing.

"With the kidnapping of the IDF soldier in Gaza," the source says, "the IDF felt particular humiliation. Then, when it happened in the north too, they were able to bring pressure to take the 'Destroy Lebanon' plan off the shelf and implement it very quickly. Remember, both sides have been preparing for this conflict for a long time."

But the results of the plan have been far different than both sides had anticipated, says the source.
Fascinating stuff. His report from Bint J'bail is also "read the whole thing" material. It seems to me that solo journalists like Sites are more capable of integrating the visual and the narrative. He's no great photographer. What makes his photographs compelling, however, is that you read about the stories of the people in the frame in his articles.

The interesting thing about Kevin Sites is -- is he part of the "MSM" or no? I think Yahoo news has scored quite a coup. I can only imagine that hiring Sites is cheap compared to putting a proper crew in Lebanon. But his reporting is immediate and compelling in the way that makes most reportage feel anemic. Sites does not have to follow all the rules and conventions of journalism. He doesn't need to write himself out of his story. This is more than a stylistic advantage. It also enables him to relay telling encounters that would be difficult to convey without acknowledgeing the interaction between the reporter and the people he meets.
We decide to see the conditions of one of the camps in town, a primary school that is being used to house 150 families who fled their villages further south. Leaders in the camp estimate as many as 1,000 people are living there without regular sources of food, water or medical treatment.

When we arrive we are immediately swarmed by children, who shout "sura, sura," wanting me to take their picture. These are followed by curious teenage boys, then dozens of angry women.

"They think we're spies for the Israelis and the Americans," Ali, my translator, says to me. "They think we're going to tell them how to target the school."

We try to explain that we just want to see their living conditions, but the crowd grows bigger and more vocal.

"We don't need anything from anyone," says one woman. "Sheik Hussein will provide for us," she says, referring to the spiritual head of Hezbollah, Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah.
Kevin Sites' work for Yahoo seemed to have grew out of his old blog, though he was always a professional in the industry. I would say that his new work, though no longer in the blog format, seems to be a continuation of the kind of content he put out on his blog. His post/articles are even accompanied by what I consider to be a proper comment section, where people respond to each other's points. Most comments after news articles seem to be like guestbook entries in comparison -- people put in their two cents and leave.

It is ridiculous to characterize the emergance of blogs as a kind of titanic existential battle between people typing in their underwear (No, I'm not actually at the moment. Thanks for asking.) on the one hand and the New York Times and CNN on the other. It's simply another way of communicating information, one that happens to be extremely accessable for writers and addictive for readers. I was no threat to the MSM before I got my blog, and I am no threat now with it. The people who are going to try and use blogs or blog-esque presentations to eat the MSM's lunch are different. They are probably already professionals (like Sites and Totten) who see blogging as an alternate outlet for their work that is both more responsive and less restrictive. However, even if they achieve success on their own terms, I find it hard to imagine them changing the newsgathering paradigm any more than cereal bars changing the whole breakfast foods paradigm.