Reporter Sharon Udasin is not a military or political correspondent, but she's learning the hard way how difficult it can be to cover anything else—pets, specifically, and now, more than ever—when your world is consumed by the throes of war. Udasin describes herself in her Twitter bio (@SharonUdasin) as the "Environment, Infrastructure and Agriculture Reporter at The Jerusalem Post," a paper that is understandably being overtaken by coverage of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. So maybe it was only natural that she would make an effort to find a story that might satisfy her many beats, while also relating to the larger narrative of the day.
She tweeted out this early this morning:
Does anyone have pets who are freaking out because of the rocket sirens? If so, please contact me today for a story. Thanks! #jpost— Sharon Udasin (@sharonudasin) November 19, 2012
It didn't take long for outrage to come her way:
And mockery ...
@sharonudasin Are you writing for The Onion?— Uri Horesh (@urihoresh) November 19, 2012
Can't wait till Israel's Dr. Doolittle @sharonudasin publishes her scared animals in Israel piece. So much trolling fun ahead of us.— Omar (@omarsyria) November 19, 2012
Another reporter comes to her defense.
@sharonudasin covers environment. It's actually smart of her to try to find angles to her stories that don't ignore the situation!— Danielle Ziri (@DanielleZiri) November 19, 2012
@rorymackinnon What would you be write about if your beat was environment/agriculture/water/animals/energy? Just take a few days off?— Sharon Udasin (@sharonudasin) November 19, 2012
Udasin is right. Animal stories are part of her beat and this particular story also ties into the biggest story in her country right now. (According to her personal website, Udasin is not Israeli, but was born in America and moved to Israel after graduating from Columbia's journalism school.) And reporting on pets during a larger human crisis would not make her unique or heartless. Almost every major U.S. news outlet has run a story about pets lost and displaced by Hurricane Sandy (or any natural disaster) and one of the most popular war stories of recent memory was about the dogs who fight alongside SEAL teams.
People like and appreciate animals stories, no matter the context. One of Civil War photographer Matthew Brady's most famous images is of a dead horse. This photo taken by a Reuters stringer is one of the saddest and powerful images we've seen all year. It emerged out of a violent conflict in Myanmar, but the fact that it is a photo of dog and not a human, well, does that make it any less meaningful?
If anything, this episode illustrates the dangers of crowd-sourcing your stories online. While Twitter can be great for gathering tips, it can also make it difficult to explain where you're going with something in just 140 characters. When the story is controversial, not everyone will see it your way— particularly in a conflict as divisive and heated as this one—and they won't hesitate to pick a fight. By asking for help the way she did, Udasin opened herself up to attacks, even if some of the attacks have little to do with the relevance of her story.
In times of war, it's a cliché that for the survivors, life goes on. It may seem insensitive to some, but it's also a completely human urge to make that life feel as normal as possible. Just like these kids in Gaza, practicing their parkour moves as Israeli missiles explode in the distance. People are dying all around them, people they may even know. But life goes on for them, too.