Using social media to report live from the ground in Iraq

Freelance journalist (right) Steven Nabil with spoke with an Iraqi soldier about life in Iraq after ISIS took over the large swaths of the country. (Photo courtesy of Steven Nabil)

By Anokina Touman

Over the past two years ISIS, a jihadist militant group, have taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria. Freelance journalist Steven Nabil, determined to get more stories about the people of Iraq and Syria from the ground, took on the mission of reporting on more than just the killings in the Middle Eastern countries.

Nabil was born and raised in Iraq. He moved to the United States as a foreign exchange student in 2004 at the age of 16. He attended University of Arizona and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He is very active within the Assyrian community.

Nabil spoke with the PIN Bureau about the moment he knew he wanted to go to Iraq and Syria.

How did you prepare yourself before going to Syria and Iraq?
I had to mentally prepare myself that every single post, article, blog post could be my last.

Did you have a strategy of how you were going to get the locals to tell you their stories?
My strategy was to listen and to put myself in their shoes, to show them that I feel their pain and suffering, that I am not just another journalist looking for my next story.

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Steven Nabil (center) embraces Iraqi children after being driven out of their homes by ISIS. (Photo courtesy of Steven Nabil)

What steps did you take to gain their trust?
I kept my promises, traveled throughout Iraq from the north side to the south side in order to find the truth and the real stories of people living there.

Being that you are Assyrian and speak the language, going into it did you think that you had the advantage of gaining their trust easily?
Absolutely not, nothing is easy; you always have to prove your motives and intentions when you are reporting because journalists unfortunately don’t always have the best reputation.

Are there any differences that you have seen in doing journalism in the United States versus Iraq/Syria?
Of course, there is one huge difference; here in the States we have the First Amendment and we can basically say and report what we want to a certain extent. However, in Iraq being a journalist is not safe — you are moving target, your reporting and writing can upset someone, which could literally mean the end.

How did you use social media (Twitter/Facebook) to connect with your audience?
I use Facebook to broadcast breaking news, using texts, videos and pictures to inform my followers on what really is going on in Iraq — showing them the stories of the everyday people of Iraq, the conditions that they are living in ever since ISIS invaded their towns and homes. My Facebook page has reached 470,000 followers; I started my page with only 1,000 people and to now have nearly half a million followers. It is incredible.

What advice would you give to other journalists reporting on communities that they’re not a part of?
Understanding the community that you are about to go into to do your reporting on. Go into it without any biases, regardless of what you may have heard about that community. Do not take sides in the internal disputes but cover the main story.

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Locals in Iraq paying their respects and carry the casket of a person killed by ISIS, according to Nabil. (Photo courtesy of Steven Nabil)

If you are interested in keeping up with Nabil’s journey, you can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @stevoiraq

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