Reporting from the Front Lines

Alumna journalist overcomes challenges in the field

October 26, 2011
by Doug Gavel

As rebel forces marched into Tripoli this past August, Missy Ryan MPP 2005 and a group of foreign journalists were holed up inside the Rixos Hotel, in effect held prisoner by Libyan government gunmen as the Gadhafi regime collapsed.

“There was a lot of fighting – snipers and artillery -- around the hotel at various points. It was very tense,” Ryan says. “We essentially hunkered down in the hotel trying to negotiate a way out with the gunmen who were there. We felt like we were pawns.”

For four days Ryan and her colleagues waited at the hotel, monitored closely by government troops and trying desperately to learn what was happening in the city around them. Finally, on Wednesday August 24th, the government gunmen finally capitulated, allowing the International Red Cross to send in vehicles to evacuate the journalists to safety.

“When we left the hotel it was shocking to see the changes that had occurred across the city over the previous days, when Tripoli went from being a city outwardly supportive of Gadhafi to one embracing the rebel cause,” she said. The celebrations in the streets marked an end to a repressive police state that Ryan and other journalists had sought to depict – despite severe restrictions placed on reporters -- preceding the fall of Tripoli.

“Now I know what it’s like to have lived in East Berlin in 1985,” she said, referring to the censorship that had existed in Libya prior to the liberation.

As a correspondent for Reuters, Ryan has often found herself in harm’s way, having spent 20 months covering the war in Iraq from 2008-10.

“When I first got to Iraq there were still very high levels of violence, and the reporting conditions were very difficult. Because foreigners were targeted by insurgents, our movements were restricted and reporting required a lot of ingenuity,” she said. “Under normal circumstances I would go to the scene of any incident I was writing about, but in Iraq we relied on local stringers. They became our eyes and ears as we tried to piece together a narrative from a distance. On the other hand it was a very exciting time to be in Iraq, watching the birth of a nation.”

Ryan has now returned to the United States where she reports on Afghanistan and Pakistan from the Pentagon. And she continues to rely upon those skills she honed as a student at the Kennedy School.

“I was hoping to acquire news kills, and get a new perspective on international affairs after having spent five years in Latin America,” she says. “I ended up going to Afghanistan for an internship, and that led me toward working on the conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia. It was an invaluable experience and I feel very grateful for everything that I learned and all the people that I met.”

Other articles you might find interesting:

Putting the Death of Moammar Gadhafi Into Context

Learning from Pakistan

The Future of U.S. Military Operations in Afghanistan: Faculty, Fellows Give their Opinions

Photograph of Missy Ryan

Reuters correspondent Missy Ryan MPP 2005

As a correspondent for Reuters, Ryan has often found herself in harm’s way, having spent 20 months covering the war in Iraq from 2008-10.


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