In 1995 a young U.S. reporter named David Rohde learned of the possibility of mass graves in Bosnia. He struggled to pull together more information, and finally managed to visit the gravesites themselves. Over the course of a few months, he succeeded in documenting the biggest massacre Europe had experienced since World War II, publishing a ground-breaking series in The Christian Science Monitor.
In wartime, journalists often hear rumors regarding gross human rights violations. Their responses can alter history. Reporting false rumors can provoke unnecessary bloodshed; failing to report true ones can prolong the slaughter. Leading figures from U.S. newspapers have faulted their publications for inadequately pursuing the story of the Holocaust as it was taking place. Journalists in El Salvador in the 1980s were accused of exaggerating their reports of the massacre at El Mozote -- only to be vindicated later.
David Rohde's experience in reporting on Srebrenica reflects many of the crucial issues that arise in pursuing such stories. What constitutes reliable evidence? Who is a trustworthy witness? How far do you go to report an enterprise story that might fall through, especially when you run the risk of missing the main event elsewhere? When does concern for personal safety override reporting imperatives-for the journalist or the editor?
We felt that Rohde's work was ideal for a case study in reporting on gross human rights violations, presenting opportunities to study both the professional techniques and the moral issues that pertain to such work. We also believed that his work revealed the role of an exceptional editor, Faye Bowers, who guided him through his mission from the Monitor's home office in Boston.
We were lucky that both David Rohde and Faye Bowers and The Christian Science Monitor graciously agreed to cooperate with us in producing this case study. We owe them a great debt of gratitude, both for their assistance and for their examples. We also warmly thank Craig Bolotin, of the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning, without whom this project would have been impossible.
This website was produced as part of a class called "Elements of International Reporting" at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in the spring of 2001. "Elements" was created in 1996, the first journalism school course to develop a curriculum in international human rights reporting. The course had presented David Rohde's series on Srebrenica on paper as a classroom example for several years before this website was conceived. Our hope is that this website will reach a broader audience, and stimulate more study and reflection on the development of human rights reporting.