The Biz: CNN's Sara Sidner Talks War Reporting
The fall of dictatorships in Egypt and Libya, an uprising in Syria, and a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan meant plenty of airtime for CNN's international correspondents, such as Nic Robertson, Arwa Damon, Sara Sidner and Ben Wedeman. You can see them and others in a rare appearance without their helmets and flak jackets when CNN on the Frontlines premieres December 23 at 8/7c on CNN and CNN International. They reflect with Anderson Cooper about the harrowing year they've spent in the world's hotspots. The Biz caught up with Sidner, who became a breakout star for the network as the world watched her dodge bullets — not always successfully — while covering the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
TV Guide Magazine: The memorable quote in your coverage from Tripoli was "Please sir don't shoot..."
Sara Sidner: When a guy has a huge gun I'm going to be polite.
TV Guide Magazine: We see these celebrations all the time. But it's really harrowing when people are shooting into the air.
Sidner: Correct. The shooting lasted what felt like days. Non-stop. All night long. My ears were ringing for days afterward. They were not just using handguns. They were using anti aircraft missiles and mortars sometimes. They'd be blasting off these massive weapons with reckless abandon. What goes up has to come down. There were moments when my crew and I thought, "Someone is going to get it. This is not going to end well." It was so intense. So when we were on live, this gentleman was getting closer and wanted to get close the camera and blast off a bunch of rounds. Any slight movement and we're done. So I asked him to back off.
TV Guide Magazine: But you did get hit and you kept on broadcasting. How did it feel?
Sidner: My colleagues have had way worse happen. One of our journalists was injured by shrapnel and had to go to the hospital. What happened to me was some of these casings came off and two or three of them [hit me] — ding, ding, ding — and it takes off a little skin or it's a little hot. I wasn't that I was terribly injured or even slightly injured.
TV Guide Magazine: You haven't been reporting from overseas for that long. Just a few years ago you were at an Oakland TV station. You joined CNN's bureau in New Delhi and now you're covering revolutions. How has this experience changed you?
Sidner: I'm a different person. The way I react to stories has changed. The level of what is an amazing moment or what is stressful has gone beyond anything I can ever imagine. Going from the streets of Oakland — where there are a lot of murders and people are suffering — to Afghanistan where I spent some time, to going to Libya in the middle of this amazing transformation that was armed to the teeth... I suppose that the most important change in me is really seeing things through the eyes of people who I had no or little contact with and starting to understand the struggles outside of the small community or wherever I worked in the U.S. You suddenly are so close to this horrible life — and they can't leave. When I leave, I always feel guilty. I feel I can't do anything to make it better. I struggle with that when I leave a conflict zone. To leave feels wrong, but that's what we do. We rotate in and out.
TV Guide Magazine: We don't see a lot of people who look like you on CNN International or as foreign correspondents in general. How does it play out in the field?
Sidner: It's good to be brown. Whether it's in India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, people assume there is a connection there, that a parent or grandparent is from North Africa or from South Asia. People think, "Oh, she understands something about what we've been through." I am a child of the world. My mother is British. My father is African-American. For me It's been an advantage...Being this color, I can kind of blend in, and I don't get the kind of unwanted attention you might get if I walked in and everyone has dark hair and olive skin and I have blonde hair and blue eyes.
Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!