Talking To The Taliban

“Understanding the insurgents is a basic part of reporting on the Afghan war, but it’s a remarkably difficult task,” writes Globe and Mail reporter Graeme Smith in the introduction to Talking To The Taliban. Smith’s solution was to send out a researcher, someone with connections to the insurgency, with a camera to interview Taliban members. The footage the researcher brought back – 42 different interviews – is the basis of Talking To The Taliban.

How It Works

The narrative of the project is broken up into six parts: “Negotiations,” “Forced To Fight,” “The Tribal War,” “Pakistan Relations,” “View of the World,” and “Suicide Bombing.” Each part consists of a short video and a text article on the topic. The videos include footage from the interviews with the Taliban as well as shots of Smith himself speaking to the camera in front of ruins or rows of tanks. These interview clips are mixed with other images from Afghanistan as well as graphics and text quotes from a variety of figures. The text offers a sort of deconstruction of the footage for that given topic, with quotes from others referring both to the given topic and the interviews of the Taliban fighters.

In addition to the videos and images, Talking To The Taliban also includes all of the interviews with members of the Taliban, unedited, and an interactive timeline about the Taliban from 1994 to 2008. Five infographics with accompanying text demonstrate the breakdown of tribes in Afghanistan, the number of air strikes in 2007 compared to 2006, the number of suicide attacks in 2007 compared to 2006, the amount of opium poppy cultivation in the country, and the risk to humanitarian operations in the country.

What Works, What Doesn’t

With such rich source material – the interviews with the Taliban themselves – the videos often have a certain raw power. The video quality isn’t great but the men talk directly to the camera, their faces are covered, a machine gun often on their lap. The same can’t be said when Smith is talking. He isn’t the most comfortable figure on camera and he talks in a clipped manner with too many pauses. Sometimes writers are better off writing.

Talking To The Taliban might have been more effective if text had been used to add context with video clips of the Taliban interspersed. The text that accompanies each section covers much of the same ground as what Smith says anyway. Or Smith could have spoken over images and video as the Globe did with Behind the Veil.

And the graphics and other extras, tacked on at the end of the piece, are easily forgotten about. It’s important to integrate extras like these into the main content or at least provide direct links to them.


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