Christopher Allbritton is either a brave bastion of gonzo journalism—he documented the first month of the Iraq war as a self-embedded blogger—or an extremely reckless one. He refers to himself as the “crazy bastard trying to cover the war” and notes that he’s acquired a following of 35,000 readers who have sent him more than $20,000 to keep his blog, back-to-iraq.com, afloat.
In April of last year, the 34-year-old graduate of Columbia’s journalism school came home to his East Village apartment from Iraq. Friends and family breathed a sigh of relief—a fleeting sigh: Allbritton soon made plans to return, raising $6,000 in a few months. (He needs about $150 a day to work in Iraq.) He left town last week for Baghdad, fraught timing given Nick Berg’s brutal death.
“Maybe I didn’t uncover anything super-scoopy during the war,” he said, when asked what he can add to the media fray, “but we’re heading into a weirder, crazier chapter, and maybe a smaller operation like myself will be more nimble, and can get stories the bigger guys can’t.” The blog’s inception dates to 2002, when Allbritton, a former Daily News reporter, flew to Syria on a “journalistic fishing trip” and snuck into Iraq. When he couldn’t sell his stories, he did what any entrepreneurial writer does today: Posted them on the Net, and asked readers to send money. “I was going to share my reporting,” he said. “And the blogosphere responded.”
Allbritton is up-front about his antiwar stance but stresses balanced reporting, spiced up by rather un-Timesian prose. (From 2003: “I’m standing about 50 km from Tikrit and nervous enough to feel like I’ve just swallowed molten lead.”) There are, of course, even more reasons to be nervous today. When his mother learned he’d arrived in Baghdad with no trouble, she posted a message on his site: “I woke up at 3:00 this morning—probably about the time you were taking off. What do they call that—mother’s intuition?”
Reached by phone, Allbritton described a changed Baghdad dotted with billboards. “My Internet café is run by this guy who only listens to Abba,” he said, adding that the walls are covered in ads for body armor. “I’ve got a nice little apartment surrounded by concrete barriers and guards. It’s $1,000 a month—like I’m back in New York.” He’s already been approached about working on the country’s first English-language newspaper, Iraq Today. But he’s also got plans to shop a book proposal: “It’s Indiana Jones meets Marshall McLuhan. Does that sound like a good pitch?”