Karen Leigh: We’re two years into the war. Why has Syria been back-burnered by the international press?
Mina al-Oraibi: I think you’re referring to the Western press. I think there’s only so much interest any international story can maintain with readers from the U.S. or Europe or outside the region where the event is happening. Syria has been in the news for the last two and a half years, and the coverage is usually about deaths and killings and battles in towns most people [outside of the Arab world] have never heard of. There’s only so much someone from outside of Syria will read about the battle of Qusayr.
KL: What would it take to get the story back to the top of the news cycle?
MO: The international angle [that’s getting coverage] is the role that the U.S. or Europe or Russia or the Security Council will have in Syria. And if there’s an international intervention, or if [Bashar al-] Assad was to leave or the regime to fall. It’s not surprising that Syria isn’t at the forefront for all those reasons. Even Iraq, where so many countries were invested, today gets just about no coverage.
It’s still more often than not the number one story on the front page of most Arab publications. We’ve had people reporting from inside Syria at great risk to themselves, and we also have correspondents from London to Moscow focusing on it. But it’s a challenge for every journalist now: How do I keep the story new and compelling? Each individual story is compelling, the refugees’ stories, but how [at this late date] do you make it compelling to readers?
But realize, unless something extraordinary has happened in other Arab countries – and this is a time where Egypt, Libya, Iraq and Lebanon [are all unstable] – it’s still always at the top of the news bulletins. The humanitarian and strategic side of the story has now impacted other countries around us.
KL: How, as an editor of an Arab paper, have you changed the way you cover the story?
MO: We still try to do a balance between humanitarian, political and international stories along with military updates on the ground. When there was a possibility of the Geneva II meeting, there was a lot of focus on what could come out of that. We’ve had reporters go inside Syria, and that [always] takes a priority. And that hasn’t changed. We exercise caution, not necessarily specifying where a journalist is now when they’re there. We prefer to wait for the stories to be published after the person has left. We focus on finding the right fixers.
KL: What do you see happening in Syria over the next few months? What will there be to cover?
MO: I see further violence. I don’t see it stabilizing or calming down anytime soon. Politically, all fights seem to be quite entrenched. It’s difficult seeing them coming to a midway point between Washington and Moscow. What we’ve seen in Lebanon, the regional dynamic, is definitely going to increase. We also have to see what comes out of the Obama–Putin meeting later this month [on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland], but I don’t see it as being a huge milestone. And I think we’ll see more militarization of the situation.