Last week, Reuters revealed exclusively that the Syrian army was moving Scud missiles to avoid a potential Western attack. Khaled Yacoub Oweis – a senior correspondent in Amman, Jordan who has recently broken several big stories on the escalating violence in Syria – scored the exclusive for Reuters, which was widely cited by other outlets. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Khaled offers an inside look on the reporting for his scoop.
Q. How did you get this exclusive?
A. An opposition activist in the Qalamoun Mountains north of Damsacus drew my attention to unusual Syrian army movements around the military bases that dot the area. In the end the story was a result of cultivating, through two-decades of specialist reporting in the Middle East, various sources with first-hand knowledge of the opaque events on the ground in Syria.
Q. What types of reporting/sourcing were involved?
A. With bans by Syrian authorities on independent media, the story was sourced to Syrian rebel commanders, opposition activists, security officials monitoring the activity of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and diplomats.
Q. What was the hardest part about reporting this story?
A. The most difficult part was getting the name and location of the missile squadrons right and corroborating the story by bouncing the reporting gathered from inside Syria off security officials based in the region, and getting more information in the process.
Q. What advantages does working at Reuters give you in working on a story like this?
A. Sources on a sensitive military story like this want to see it on Reuters, knowing it will receive the highest possible circulation and attention of decision makers across the globe, so they tend to be willing to tolerate the extra scrutiny. The story was subjected to the utmost degree of cross- and double-checking before it went out on the wire, with the Reuters mark of credibility attached to it.
Q. What makes you passionate about journalism?
A. Finding the truth and reporting it is a great, timeless privilege. While in Damascus in 2006, and a day after Saddam Hussein was condemned to death in neighbouring Iraq, three veteran Syrian political prisoners called me from their jail cell in Adra Prison on the northern outskirts of the city. Dissidets Michel Kilo, Kamal al-Lawani and Anwar al-Bunni spoke on a smuggled phone. A Reuters story followed, reporting that authoritarian Arab rulers should take heed from the verdict against Saddam Hussein and start respecting human rights in their own countries, political prisoners in Syria said from their jail. I closed the bureau that day saying to myself that the voices of three human rights defenders slaving in a notorious jail in a totalitarian county had reached the world. Nothing beats that, I thought. Even better, time proved them right.
To read the latest from Khaled Oweis, click here.