Mike Fancher / Times executive editor
Special section provides context for our coverage of Middle East conflict
Every paragraph in today's Seattle Times special report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is worthy of a textbook, and even then there would be debate about whether the work was complete.
"I don't pretend this is the complete study of the Middle East," says Jim Mallery, Seattle Times national/foreign editor. But the section is something he's wanted to do for a long time to enhance our daily coverage.
Providing context for international stories can be difficult in the daily newspaper. Mallery and the wire-desk team struggle every day to report the latest developments from the Mideast, knowing the story is complicated, with powerful feelings on all sides.
"The section felt like something that would really help readers," he said. While no work on such an enduring and complex situation can be comprehensive, the section is a terrific starting point for understanding the situation.
A resource list on the back page of the section will take readers beyond its pages, as will our companion Web site at www.seattletimes.com/mideast. A study guide in the section will help teachers and parents discuss its contents.
A major concern going into the project was that the section be as accurate and fair as possible. Mallery asked Eli Sanders, lead reporter on the project, to identify University of Washington scholars who could scrutinize the work for The Times. He wanted experts in the field, not partisans.
We are very grateful for the help of:
• Joel Migdal, professor of international studies and author (with Baruch Kimmerling) of "Palestinians — the Making of a People";
• Brannon Wheeler, associate professor of Islamic studies and chair of comparative religion;
• Deborah Wheeler, lecturer on Near Eastern languages and civilizations.
Sanders said, "Joel Migdal was selected because of his expertise regarding the formation of the Palestinian identity and also, frankly, because when I called to ask him a small question about a story I was working on for this project, he initially was very skeptical as to the project's value.
"Skeptical minds make for good critiques, right? He now believes the project will be valuable to our readers," Sanders said.
Brannon Wheeler had been helpful to Sanders last year when the reporter wrote stories about turbans and veils. "He knows a lot about Islam and the Arab world, so I figured he would be a good person to turn to."
Wheeler's wife, Deborah, who works at the UW's Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, also reviewed the section.
The scholars caught several problems of nuance and fact, as well as provided background that was edifying to the project team.
We know readers will want to comment on the section, so we've set up special telephone and e-mail connections. Voice messages can be left at 206-464-8478. E-mail can be sent to email@example.com.
From the written comments we receive, we'll create a special message area on seattletimes.com. Information on how you can get extra copies is on the back page of the section.
Be sure to hang onto the section. It may not be a textbook, but the content was designed to be relatively timeless.
Spreading the word
We're also making a special effort to get copies of today's special section distributed in schools, as part of our ongoing Newspapers In Education program.
You can help build the NIE program when you're on vacation. When you call 206-464-2121 to temporarily stop delivery of the newspaper, say you want to donate your papers to NIE.
Last year readers donated more than a million newspapers to classrooms in 732 area schools. That's inspiring.
Spreading the news
This week, we're increasing our Eastside news coverage and boosting the staff in our Bellevue office to 16. We'll cover more communities, sharpen our focus on Eastside business and tune in to more regional issues.
Some of these stories will run only in the Eastside edition, which is getting extra pages to handle them. But this also means increased coverage of the Eastside for all of our readers, since so much of what happens east of Lake Washington now affects our entire metropolitan region.
I'll explain more about this next week.
Inside the Times appears in the Sunday Seattle Times. If you have a comment on news coverage, write to Michael R. Fancher, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111, call 206-464-3310 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.