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WORLD FOCUS: Covering trouble spots

November 13, 2014
By FRANK SHATZ , Lake Placid News

My first encounter with globetrotting journalist Dalton Bennett occurred two years ago while he was investigating the re-emergence of the far-right extremism in Europe, particularly in southern and eastern Europe.

He was brought to my attention by Ronald Rapoport, John Marshall Professor of Government at the Collage of William and Mary. He called Bennett, his former student, a "remarkable young man" who will make a name for himself as a "fearless journalist in the pursuit of truth."

Indeed, Bennett's work as a staff video-journalist for the Associated Press, reporting from the most dangerous trouble spots on the globe, earned him the 2014 Oliver S. Grambling Award, which is presented annually to recognize excellence in journalism.

Article Photos

Dalton Bennett
(Photo provided)

He was also honored by his alma mater, the College of William & Mary, by being the recipient of The Baxter-Ward Fellowship that recognizes alumni of the Government Department who have distinguished themselves in their field of endeavor.

During his recent return visit to W&M, Bennett gave a public lecture about his experiences and met with students in a class setting. "I'm not here to provide answers to the world's problems," he said. "I'm here to simply share my own experience, musings and thoughts as a former student of William & Mary."

Although a native Virginian, Bennett wound up finishing high school in Idaho, where he lived in a yurt. He also learned how to ride a horse during a drive of 300 head of steer into the hills. Eventually, he ended up at the College of William & Mary.

"While here," he said, "I'd say I was fairly studious, spending most of my days in the old Morton Hall. ... The time spent there, I found to be formative not only by opening my horizons but challenging my prejudices, specifically my know-all attitude. ... Those factoids and readings at the time I moaned about have helped me in my career today."

Two weeks after graduation in 2009, in search of "what I wanted to do with my life," Bennett left for the mountainous former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan. Within a few months, he was blogging for the Atlantic magazine, and writing for an online publication focused on the region.

A revolution was brewing in the country, resulting in the ousting of the government that left dozens dead. "The country was in turmoil, the police vanished, part of the capital was in flames," he said in an interview with the Lake Placid News and the Virginia Gazette. "I was sleeping on the floor of my editor's apartment. I was scared and terrified. I called my mom. My uncle had purchased a ticket on the next available flight home. My mother begged, pleaded, then threatened me into catching this flight. ... I asked myself, why am I here? But something clicked. To this day, I don't know what it was. I chose not to catch that flight, and four years on I've been giving my poor mother heartburn ever since."

From Kyrgyzstan, Bennett began covering all Central Asia stories. He covered an Islamist militant jail break in Dushanbe. He was deported from Turkmenistan. He covered the Libyan Civil war, including the fall of Tripoli and spent five months behind rebel lines. Relocating to Greece, he covered the rise of the neofascist group Golden Dawn. This past year, he reported on the West Gate mall terrorist attack in Nairobi, Kenya and on the devastation from the Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

This summer brought him to Iraqi Kurdistan, reporting on the fall of Mosul and the advance of the Islamic State. In August, he spent three weeks covering the war in Gaza. It took the lives of two of his colleagues and gravely injured another.

"As a journalist, I have covered, witnessed and even participated in what would become history," he said. "Through all this, what I have learned is that history means nothing without the faith, the actions of those people who embraced those precious moments. ... There is no greater pleasure than listening to someone's story, sharing it with others. Since the dawn of man, we have told, recounted and enjoyed stories."

As of now, Dalton is back covering a war story, somewhere in the world.

Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from the Virginia Gazette. He is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns.



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