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American Journalism Review
Baghdad Lad  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   June 2003

Baghdad Lad   

Richard Engel jumps from ABC News to NBC, after his Iraq reporting wins kudos.

By Sofia Kosmetatos
Sofia Kosmetatos is a former AJR editorial assistant.     

Richard Engel, who reported for ABC News during the war in Iraq, signs on as correspondent for NBC News.

As a freelancer for ABC, which pulled its own reporters out of Baghdad on March 17, Engel, 29, was the only reporter for American television to broadcast from the Iraqi capital throughout the war.

Explaining why he turned down what an ABC News executive calls a "generous offer," Engel says that NBC has "a lot of advantages": top-rated evening and morning news programs, "dynamism" on the staff and sister cable network MSNBC, which would give him more airtime. "I wouldn't just fall off the map," he says.

Why was NBC so eager to snap Engel up? "Seeing his energy, his drive, his willingness to go the extra mile to get the story, I thought we'd be lucky to have him and that he'd be a great fit," says NBC News President Neal Shapiro.

Engel made his way into Iraq on his own just weeks before the war started, with the help of connections he made on a visit in October 2002. "It was a difficult procedure to get in," he says. Engel says he often changed hotel rooms in the beginning of his stay and "frequently" felt afraid because "you don't know what's going to happen. Are you going to be forced out, or worse?"

ABC News Vice President Jeffrey W. Schneider praises Engel's reports for his network from the Palestine Hotel as "pretty extraordinary to see." Engel was on the air a lot, Schneider says, and his reporting was "really quite a feat of endurance."

The journalism bug bit Engel during his senior year at Stanford University, where he majored in international relations. He decided he could either go to a small paper or abroad, so he moved to Egypt after graduating in 1996 to cover the Middle East. "I wanted to make my name in the world that way," he says.

Dissatisfied with a couple of weeks of Arabic language instruction in a classroom, Engel, who already spoke fluent Italian and Spanish, moved to a poor neighborhood in Cairo and learned Arabic from his neighbors. From the Middle East, he reported for a PBS- and BBC-produced news series called "The World," and for ABC News Radio, USA Today and Reuters.

Shapiro says he was impressed that Engel "cared enough about the region to move there and learn the language." Though Engel will be based in Baghdad initially, Shapiro says, "I would not be surprised to see him anywhere there's a big story."



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