JMC Senior Travels To Syria To Cover Conflict
JMC student journalists can be tenacious when it comes to getting their stories. Visual journalism senior Coty Giannelli is no exception. Instead of spending his summer relaxing, he traveled to Syria to get a first-hand account of the ongoing conflict there. Photo credit: Coty Giannelli
Giannelli spent two weeks in the embattled country, chronicling the uprising in cities like Aleppo and small villages in northern Syria. The Syrian civil war, which began in March 2011, is a conflict between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and those seeking to overthrow the government. Casualty counts in the ongoing war range from 40,000 to 100,000.
“I wasn’t happy with how the media was covering the conflict,” Giannelli recalled. “I wanted to cover personal stories that focused not just on the situation but also the people involved. It seemed like the news outlets were very distant and were focusing on the politics of the situation.”
Giannelli was prepared to enter a warzone, having served in the U.S. Army for six years, including one year in Iraq, “I was definitely aware of my surroundings and the possibilities of what could happen, but I was not scared. Fear was not a factor.”
Getting to Syria was not simple, however. Giannelli, a native of Malvern, Ohio, didn’t have any connections in Syria before his trip. To get there and get close to the story, he needed to find “a fixer.” Giannelli explains, “A fixer is like a translator. You want somebody who is known in the area.”
Giannelli met his fixer online. The fixer had worked with journalists before and was willing to help him make connections on the ground – connections that helped Giannelli understand the culture and the people better.
“The Syrians believe that everyone must do their part for the revolution. If you’re a fighter, you fight. My fixer likes to work as a PR person. He takes journalists into the country, he tries to keep them safe, make introductions, and show them what’s going on. That is his contribution to the revolution.” Giannelli (left) and a FSA fighter
Giannelli was determined to get the story regardless of the escalating violence there. He met many Syrians who inspired him to keep going. “I met people like brothers who quit their good paying jobs in Beirut to come to Syria and open a factory to build munitions for the rebels, even though they had no previous experience building arms. There was also the mother who trapped in Aleppo with her kids because she was so poor, and she was worried to leave her home. The rebels in the area take care of them when they can, but supplies are scarce in the city. There are also the children who volunteer their time to clean up their villages,” Giannelli explained.
As Giannelli went deeper in to the warzone, he found himself in a world quite unlike ours.
“The Syrian people live through missile and mortar attacks every day. The Syrian regime was hitting civilian targets, destroying homes. People leave their towns to start a new home in an abandoned school or an abandoned factory, only to get bombed and killed, just because they were in the wrong place, wrong time.”
Giannelli was able to capture in words and stark images.
Since his return home, Giannelli has focused on getting these stories published by local and national media outlets. While his work has been published on sofrep.com, the Special Operations Forces Situation Report, he wants to ensure the public has access to these stories. He worries that he will let down the Syrians who helped him.
“I feel guilty because I haven’t been able to get these stories out. Many Syrians gave me their time. They gave me access. They took a risk by letting me photograph them, and some people would not allow me to photograph them because they still had family in government-controlled areas. That’s one of the reasons I started writing.”
Giannelli knows that determination is essential in journalism, and he encourages other students to do whatever it takes to get their story.
“Find something you’re passionate about and go after it. If you don’t think somebody is covering something well enough, then do it yourself. Take a chance. I don’t think you can really get anywhere in life without taking a gamble or two. Sometimes you’ll make it, and other times you’ll fail, but that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing something you feel passionate about, or something you feel morally obligated to cover, to get out there.”
Giannelli’s work can be found on his portfolio at: www.giannelli.me
By Erica Batyko
(top photo credit: Coty Giannelli)
(bottom photo: Giannelli [left] with a Free Syrian Army fighter)