From Kicklines to Frontlines: Campbell Robertson Off to Iraq

otr From Kicklines to Frontlines: Campbell Robertson Off to IraqCampbell Robertson, the dogged Times journalist who has worked his way up from office clerk to gossip reporter to Broadway-beat man, is headed to Iraq.

“We were out last night and he was picking my brain on Iraq,” said Times Baghdad bureau chief Jim Glanz in a telephone interview on June 17. “He said that people have been asking him when he’s going to Iraq. And he said he’ll go once the Tonys are over!”

In some ways, it’s unbelievable that a man who wrote a story for Monday’s Times recapping the Tonys—for instance, he wrote that the awards tried to “goose ratings” by including more numbers from Rent this year—is going to be filing with Basra and Mosul datelines before old story subjects are back from the Hamptons.

“Look, he’s an untraditional war correspondent the way a lot of us are,” said Mr. Glanz, who was a science writer before leaving for Baghdad four years ago. “He’s coming from a different background and point of view from everyone else there. And right now, we can use some fresh ideas and perspectives.”

Mr. Robertson, who declined to comment for this item, will start on a rotation in Baghdad in the beginning of July at a time (as The Observer documented last week) when the story is falling from the front page of newspapers more and more, and when newspapers are having to find more young reporters to fill positions in their Baghdad bureaus.

“We’re taking a really strategic approach to writing about it,” said Susan Chira, the paper’s foreign editor, in a recent interview. “Sure, in 2004 the place was blowing up, and things are calmer now, but there are different stories. We’re completely committed, and we don’t think it’s going away.”

She said that Mr. Robertson was “a terrific writer and dogged reporter and we look forward to his time in Iraq.”

Mr. Robertson’s Times story is the one that supposedly doesn’t happen anymore outside of an Arthur Gelb memoir. He started as a clerk, which depending on whom you ask is either a foot in the door or the first step toward podiatric surgery. But he pitched aggressively and pushed his way into the 8-i reporting program. His breakthrough job: lead writer for the now defunct Boldface Names column in the Metro report.

“I just ignored what everybody was saying for so long,” Mr. Robertson told The Observer in 2005, when he was promoted to lead the column. “It might have been wildly inadvisable.”

jkoblin@observer.com