Q & A with Tim Lister CNN producer

Q & A with Tim Lister CNN producer

CNN producer and reporter visits JMC 480 Special Topics Class

By | Morgan Brizee

Tim Lister has been covering news internationally for 25 years as both a producer and reporter for BBC and CNN. Lister produced the award-winning film “Between Hope and Fear: Journeys in the New Iraq” for CNN in 2004. He also co-authored  “Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA.” He has been to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Q: How do you get the Iraqi military to let you go with them?

A: The longer you’ve known a particular general, the better chance you got. There is not much centralized control. You either get along with the local general and he says, “yeah, come along with us,” or you don’t. It’s a process; you have to establish a lot of confidence and you also have to establish a level of belief in [the Iraqi military’s] ability, which sometimes ends up being misplaced, and sometimes they really turn out to be very good commanders.

Q: Do you know where ISIS obtains its weapons or if there are some other forces that were helping them out?

A: When ISIS swept through Iraq in the summer of 2014, they seized huge amounts of weaponry and vehicles from Iraqi bases all the way from Mosul down to Tikrit and a lot of other cities. They have taken a lot of armor in Syria as well. And they have these workshops and factories which are still turning out yet more weaponry.

Q: Have you guys thought about using drones to get video instead of getting so close?

A: It is difficult to in combat zones to deploy a drone because very often, one side or the other is like, is that your drone? Well we are taking it away. And they are expensive bits of equipment. You have to appreciate in these situations one side or the other are very often thinking you are spying against them or you are going to divulge information. The last thing they want is the media flying drones and showing drone footage that might give away their positions or their movements. So overall we use drones for natural disasters, like Nepal is a good example. We would use a drone to show the destruction as it’s been the case in a lot of Syrian cities.

Q: What, if any, rights or protections do journalists have when they are embedded in a foreign country, as far as seizure of their information goes?

A: The answer is next to no protection to be honest. You have very few protections. If you are with an Iraqi commander and you’ve been with him for a week or so, on the whole of it, they’ll be like, just get on with it, go on, and you’ll be fine and they won’t come back to you. But it has become a lot tougher for journalists. I think the media is regarded as a protagonist now in a lot of these conflicts instead of a neutral observer.

Q: What was the worst situation you’ve been in while covering a story and would you do it again?

A: The problem is that you don’t realize until afterward whether you should’ve done something. I would say in these situations that you can manage risk to a certain extent, but if you are going to report it, you cannot eliminate it; and there are certain situations that cannot possibly be predicted or calculated. I always draw the distinction between being frightened, which is one thing, and fear, which is another. Fear is when it is of the unknown, you have no idea of what can happen to you.


Victoria Sama, journalism professor and former CNN producer, is offering the war reporting special topics 480 class for the first time.

“I have contacts from my long time as a CNN producer, many of them are great friends who appreciate that I am teaching the next generation of journalists about the world,” Sama said. “I’m excited to offer the war reporting class this spring, because the subject of conflict is timely to what is happening around our world.”

Ahmed Al-Sakkaf, a student in Special Topics 480, found the first Skype session with Lister interesting.

“I got more of an inside glance of the challenges and difficulties war correspondents face when covering conflicts,”Al-Sakkaf said. “One of the main reasons why I majored in journalism is to cover war, not necessarily to report the military forces losses or victories, but to cover the civilians who live in a war-torn zone.”

Related posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *