Kevin Sites was here before. He passed through Bulgaria 17 years ago on his way to cover the war in Kosovo. Back then he was anxious about what was ahead of him, he said. He remembered going into the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and feeling at peace there.
Last week he came back. This time he was here to share the lessons he has learned about war and covering conflict.
Sites has been a journalist for 30 years. He spent half of his career reporting on war. He was a network news producer and correspondent for ABC, NBC and CNN. He became the first Internet correspondent for Yahoo! News. He is the author of three books on war. He is a Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard University and an Ochberg Fellow in Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University.
“When you go into a foreign country, you have to be humble,” Sites said. And so he was throughout his stay in Bulgaria. He met with 80 journalists from Stara Zagora, Varna, and Sofia, selected with help of the Media Development Center. He shared some of his experiences with them – practical as well as ethical. He gave a public lecture at the Red House Center for Culture and Debate in Sofia. The lecture, called “When You Put the Camera Down,” talked about when you stop being a journalist and start being human. He illustrated his points with iconic images from 40 years of war coverage, including video from one of his most controversial reports. Sites was also a special guest at Ambassador Eric Rubin’s residence, where he met Bulgarian editors-in-chief, newsroom directors, educators and civil society figures.
“Sharing with you is like therapy,” said Sites, answering a young journalist’s question on how he deals with what he had seen in war. With a kind smile and a probing gaze, he took the time to answer every interview request from journalists who wanted to talk with him during the workshops’ coffee or lunch breaks. He asked all participants to stay in touch through his web site and make the current encounter the beginning of a relationship.
At home, Sites splits his time between his family in Southern California and his work in Hong Kong. He is an Associate Professor in the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong and a contributor to many print and online publications, including Vice Magazine, Aeon, Men’s Health and Salon.
The U.S. Embassy in Sofia hopes to build on the knowledge and experience that Kevin Sites brought to Bulgarian colleagues with future training opportunities.