Yahoo Roving Reporter Thrives in 'Hot Zone'

By Carly Mayberry

As a backpack journalist traveling solo across the world in dangerous regions, Kevin Sites' load just got a little lighter.

Not that the 60 pounds of digital equipment he totes on his back has lessened any. But Sites has made it to the halfway point of a global trek that has found him documenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Syrian government -- and in the process helped make Yahoo's news site consistently ranked No. 1 in online news coverage.

"Kevin has gotten stories that receive very little coverage by traditional news outlets but that are important and told them in a way that never has been done before or could have been done before in terms of technology," says Scott Moore, Yahoo Media Group's vp content operations. "He's made news cool and relevant to younger audiences with original content that has no spin, no filter."

From the beginning, the goal of Yahoo's "Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone" has been to put a human face on global conflict through the kind of intrepid reporting that can't be done with a conventional TV news crew.

"I saw an incredible need to cover these places in a way that wasn't just about the body count -- but what happens in terms of victimization and environmental destruction," says Sites, who has worked for the likes of CNN and NBC, gaining notoriety in 2004 when he videotaped a U.S. Marine shooting a wounded Iraqi insurgent in a Fallujah mosque. "People won't be interested in a conflict if it seems obscure to them."

So when Sites joined Yahoo after returning from a long stint covering the war in Iraq and saw more and more online news sites cropping up, he knew Yahoo needed to carve out a niche beyond conflict reporting.

"There are many layers between us and a story, and what I wanted to do was pull back those layers by simply getting to a person," says Sites, who uses the latest in mobile and Internet technologies to report in real time. "The world is huge, but if we parachute in to enough of these tiny little slivers of countries -- even for a short time -- people should get a much more fully dimensional look."

Sites already has compiled multimedia reports for Yahoo's 400 million users from 14 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

"When I first started in Somalia and the Congo and I was reporting 12 hours a day, trying to write and transmitting all night we were having equipment problems and I remember thinking, Are we really gonna do this for a whole year?" he recalls. But eventually Sites found a rhythm and credits his "mission control team" of producer Robert Padavick and researcher Lisa Liu at Yahoo's Santa Monica offices.

"I feel like an astronaut and I'm doing a space walk. They're the ones that keep me tethered in," Sites says of Padavick and Liu.

As Sites embarks on the final leg of his round-the-world journey, he says certain moments resonate more powerfully for him than others -- like witnessing a mother in Sudan singing a rebel lullaby to her child, the time he shot basketball hoops with young boys in Iran and the experience of covering a child bride tortured in Afghanistan. His coverage of the girl's plight drew 14,000 responses and became Yahoo!'s most e-mailed story that week.

Still, the journalist, who was once accustomed to the huge audience of the evening news, remains amazed by the interactive nature of the Internet platform and the Yahoo site itself with its various links, which provide a built-in account of the history behind each story.

"It allows for this multilayer storytelling, but what's really cool is that the nature of the Web allows people on the news site to give us story ideas or correct someone else's posting with their own information to in essence move the story forward in this revolutionary endeavor of storytelling on the Web," he says.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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