Journalist Dives Into Danger and Lives to Tell the Tales

War Zone Anecdotes Make Entertaining Fare

Posted November 2, 2009 at 3:00pm

There’s never a shortage of arguments that people use to bash journalists: They’re in the tank for one political party or another, they can’t be objective, and they’re in the business to feed their egos. While in some cases those accusations may be true, Emmy Award winner Greg Dobbs tries to dispel such stereotypes in his new book.

In “Life in the Wrong Lane,— Dobbs reminds us that reporters tend to be the ones heading into danger when everyone else is getting out. He is an example of this, as evidenced in chapters detailing assignments that he had covering the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and pushing the buttons of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

But Dobbs isn’t touting his own journalistic excellence or painting a sobering portrait of the dangers of delivering the news. Throughout the book, Dobbs maintains a conversational tone that allows him to recall some of his most memorable moments on the job without taking himself too seriously.

“I didn’t want it to just be my personal journal,— said Dobbs, a reporter for ABC News for 23 years. “Some people put a lot on the line to bring them the news.—

Dobbs said he chose the anecdotes that he did because he wanted a blend of quirky and dark experiences that would give a full view of what reporters are called on to cover. And he wanted people to read it.

“The book has to be entertaining,— he said. “If it’s all grim, somebody’s going to say, ‘Well that was a downer.’—

The chapter titles alone give away the fact that the book is written by a journalist. Sections such as “The Night I Surrendered to a Cow— and “This May Not Be Hell, But We Can See It From Here— grab the reader in the same way that a good headline does, and Dobbs delivers in each chapter. Like any good writer, he takes his readers along on his various adventures, circling the globe as an eyewitness to some of the most notorious conflicts in recent history.

Among his more nail-biting recollections is a night in 1981 when he smuggled 43 cases of food, videotapes and other supplies to colleagues in Warsaw, Poland. The country was under martial law at the time, and Dobbs snuck in on one of the last trains crossing the border, but not before being ripped off by a Polish customs agent.

In another chapter, Dobbs crosses the border from Tanzania into war-torn Uganda and camps out in a deserted and roach-infested hotel with Tanzanian soldiers. It is at the end of this story that he finds out he is going to be a father for the first time.

And he shares an all-too-common journalistic experience. Despite the danger that came with getting stories out of Uganda, all his work is boiled down to one minute and 15 seconds, a spot he had to beg for because it coincided with the nuclear reactor scare at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

The stories that he includes are all his own experiences, but Dobbs said he feels they create an accurate portrait of any reporter’s career.

“These are things that happened a long time ago, but these stories are evergreen,— he said.

For those who don’t recall the sordid details of the events that Dobbs covered, he provides a brief synopsis of the political situation in each country at the time he was there.

“Life in the Wrong Lane— reads not only as an engaging and conversational memoir, but as a personal look at recent history, revisiting the events that Dobbs was on the ground reporting.