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Radio flyer
After years of jetting to overseas trouble spots, BBC correspondent and native Bostonian Jeb Sharp brings the world news home

THERE WAS A time when Jeb Sharp had no qualms about getting on a plane and heading to a place like Kosovo. It was her job, after all, as a correspondent for The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, Public Radio International, and WGBH Boston.

These days, with a partner and a three-year-old daughter, Sharp tends to stick closer to home, working on projects that dig deep into issues and conflicts from a historical context, rather than from the field. But the Newton nativeís job is no less rewarding; her recent History of Iraq series won a 2003 Overseas Press Club award. This week, her latest series, The United States and Iran: A Radio History, hits the airwaves.

Q: What was your career genesis?

A: I did a journalism degree at Berkeley, at the graduate school there, and was really thinking print. I took a radio course in my very last semester just for fun, and got completely hooked.

Q: What about it hooked you?

A: It wasnít falling in love with the medium so much as realizing I could be part of a medium that Iíd always loved.

Q: How would you describe The World to someone who hasnít listened to it?

A: We have an hour every day to look at the world, and bring foreign news to an American audience, and to try to do it in ways that arenít tired and formulaic, and to keep up with all the amazing things that are happening in the world, and to balance all the bloodshed and pessimism with all the beauty in the world. The show is full of interviews with all kinds of people doing all kinds of things all over the world. Whether itís writers or artists or people running wild-adventure races across the South Pole, or playing chess in the Faeroe Islands, you remember ó every day, you remember that the world is an amazing place, and itís full of riches. And thereís something about radio, and the sound of the human voice, for those of us who love it and are addicted to it, thatís just unmatched.

Q: At the beginning, were you working more in the field?

A: Yeah. When I first got here, it was really my first introduction to reporting on international stories, and the whole Kosovo conflict was brewing, and the war was starting, and I took a trip down to New York, where thereís a large community of Albanian-Americans. I did a feature about how people there were feeling about Kosovo, and came back just kind of shocked and amazed at the level of distress, and the fundraising that was going on for the Kosovo Liberation Army, and came back with this amazing sense of, here I am in the United States, and yet this whole conflict thatís going on over there is completely alive to this community in New York. I did that feature and then just couldnít take my eyes off the story after that. It was that thing where you get touched by a couple of human stories and you just become obsessed. And it was a great learning curve for me, because I could follow a story and learn about US foreign policy at the same time, and just immerse myself in the sources and the details and the maps and the drama. It was like any good story; youíre sort of on it every day, feverishly. And the newsroom here was completely receptive to it; it was the perfect story for us. [The World] is really about bringing the world to an American audience, and looking at how the United States behaves in the world, and that whole sort of mirror effect, and trying to make it intelligible to people, illuminate it for people.

Q: Can you illuminate it if youíre looking at it from a safe distance, or do you really have to get in there?

A: I think you understand it at such a different level when you actually go. I mean, in that case, it was wonderful because I felt as if Iíd studied the problem, and then ó it was actually after the war, but the troops were in, and itís relevant to the situation today in the sense that it was a post-conflict situation, and all those lessons were being painfully learned in Kosovo, but yeah, youíre suddenly up against it, and conversations that youíre having on the streets make everything come together so much faster than it ever does from afar. And in so much more of a human way.

Q: Because you got closest to the war in Albania, is that the most difficult story, emotionally, that youíve worked on at The World?

A: Yeah. I donít know if difficult is the right word; I mean, obviously itís really difficult when youíre in those emotional moments, and they stick with you. In some ways it was incredibly rich and instructive. It certainly informs the way that I think about other places. And you know, itís tiny, compared to Iraq or something; itís two million people. One of the ironies is Kosovo was supposed to be sort of an easy experiment, because it was so small, and itís kind of a mess still.

Q: You won an award for your History of Iraq series. Whatís your take on whatís happening there now? Do you see a resolution anywhere in sight?

A: It looks pessimistic. I mean, I think a laypersonís view is not so far off [that of] the expert or the person who covers it. It looks like a lot of mistakes were made that need to be rectified. And I donít think thereís an easy answer. Iím not covering it day to day right now, because Iím involved in another project, and Iíve never been to Iraq, but it feels profound. It just feels like weíre at a profound moment, and people are really struggling and reckoning with what happened, and whether it was right or not. And there is a feeling that itís going to be with us for a long, long time. I sort of wake up with it and go to bed with it. Itís that big.


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Issue Date: October 22 - 28, 2004
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