A Life on the Line: The Christian Science Monitor and Jill Carroll

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Posted By:
Kirsten Lundberg
Columbia University

CSJ-08-0012.0 This case study tracks the actions of a newspaper whose stringer in Iraq has been kidnapped—a situation unfortunately becoming far too common. In January 2006, Christian Science Monitor stringer Jill Carroll was kidnapped on a street in Baghdad after her car was stopped and her translator killed. The Monitor editors and Baghdad bureau reporters scrambled to put together a plan that would save Carroll’s life. The newspaper had to manage numerous players: Carroll’s family, government agencies (FBI, State Department), its own staff, other news organizations, non-profit advocates for reporters’ rights and would-be helpers in the Middle East. As the first deadline set by kidnappers passed with no word, and a second one loomed, the exhausted editorial team weighed its options going forward: create a noisy public campaign, or deal quietly behind the scenes to secure Carroll’s release? To complicate the Monitor’s plight, the State Department and the FBI disagreed on the best approach.

In class discussion, students experience the dilemmas confronting a news organization when violence is committed against one of its staff. That the kidnapping took place in Iraq only multiples the number of players and complicates rescue strategies. Students must consider what personal details to publicize about the kidnapped reporter; how to weigh offers of assistance from parties in the Middle East; how to manage other news organizations which want to report on the kidnapping; how to use family members to secure the kidnapped reporter’s release; and how to assess the advice government agencies are offering. Students realize how complex is the web of relationships which govern a news organization’s actions in a crisis. They should also discuss what constitutes sufficient protection in a war zone.

This case can be used in a class on international reporting, on reporting in a war zone, or on crisis management. For the full multimedia version, for the Teaching Note and Epilogue, or for more information on the Case Method of teaching, please go to: http://casestudies.jrn.columbia.edu/ and click on Case Collection.

If you decide to teach this case, please send us an email at: jcaseorders@columbia.edu with the following information: case title, date of case class, course title, number of students. This allows us to track the usefulness of each case. Thanks.