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Weisgerber ’04 talks war reporting in the age of ISIS

It was an infamous day in 2001 that caused Marcus Weisgerber to take a look at his career path.

Weisgerber, a 2004 UNH alum, was enrolled in a writing class when the World Trade Center collapsed. A Long Island native, many of Weisgerber’s family and friends were directly impacted by the tragedy that struck the nation. He looked to his cousin, who escaped from the attack, and asked if he could tell her story.

Now the global business reporter for DefenseOne in Washington D.C., Weisgerber returned to UNH on Tuesday as the 2016 Donald Murray Visiting Journalist. Weisgerber reports on the intersection between national security and business. He’s reported from Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe and Asia, usually traveling alongside the defense secretary and U.S. military officials.

“The first bit of military reporting I ever did was embed with the New Hampshire National Guard and cover Hurricane Katrina,” Weisgerber said of his time working for Foster’s Daily Democrat in Dover. From there, he climbed the ladder, going from NewsDay to DefenseNews to Inside Defense.

“I only know how to write about the military when they are at war,” he said, noting that the United States has been at war for 15 years.

Weisgerber spoke on how the war with ISIS is different than any war the U.S. has fought.

“It’s nearly impossible for journalists to get into Syria,” he said. “And if you do, there is a big chance something bad is going to happen to you.”

He emphasized how the position of an “embed” has changed since the conditions have worsened in the Middle East.

“One of my colleagues, who has done numerous embeds, told me that if you screw up in Iraq or Afghanistan, you could get by,” he said. “If you screw up in Syria, you’re just dead.”

Weisgerber showed photos of Raqqa, Syria, which is deemed the ISIS “capital.” The conditions appeared unlivable and devastating.

The Pentagon beat is the most collegial press corps in Washington, according to Weisgerber.

“Everybody is after the same goal,” he said. “Everyone wants the truth.”
He spends a lot of time going through government documents, which can take months or years to “connect the dots.” Press conferences, speech coverage and intensive research are also part of the job.

Weisgerber’s advice to UNH journalism students was simple.

“Never stop digging, keep asking questions. Ask hard ones.”

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