Off-the-beaten-track foreign reporting

The Straits Times’ US Bureau chief Chua Chin Hon has won a special mention at US-based Pictures of the Year International contest. In a ST article on Saturday, Chua revealed that his entry, a 40-picture set titled “Time and Tide: Five Years Behind the Three Gorges’ Dam”, was a work accomplished between 2003 and 2008, when he was based in China.

In the same article, he said: “Day to day work at the Beijing Bureau is often about the news of the moment and you often lose track of the bigger story and changes gripping China.” The pictures for this entry had been taken when he was on leave, he added.

Chua’s work has often struck me, because they are normally off the beaten path. Rather than only focusing on reporting daily news which news wires can easily duplicate, he also takes note of the bigger picture and tie it back to the effect on the people on the ground. This, I think, will be what distinguishes foreign reporting in the future as news of the moment reach people more and more easily regardless of geographic distances.

If interested, you can see more of his work here.

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Facebook group for Robert Fisk

Continuing on the earlier post on reporting from Iran and Iraq, none can claim to be a more established correspondent in the Middle East than Robert Fisk. Praised by New York Times as “probably the most famous foreign correspondent in Britain”, he even has a Facebook group of his own.

The Middle East correspondent for UK newspaper The Independent, Fisk has spent more than 30 years reporting from the region. He speaks vernacular Arabic, and is one of the few Western journalists to have interviewed Osama bin Laden – three times between 1994 and 1997. Not only does he find favour with his sources, his readers like him too: there are 2,896 members in his Facebook group.

The introduction to the group promises that you can find links to Fisk’s articles as soon as they are published online. It also serves as a gathering point for many interested in the conflicts in Middle East; members hold debates on the wall.

Such Facebook groups could be a valuable asset for journalists who want to get a feel of the reactions to their articles. Like Twitter, it could also be a barometer of what people are talking about, particularly in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, Fisk doesn’t seem to be in the group himself, or maybe even on Facebook. A quick search turned up many Robert Fisks, but not the famous journalist. Maybe he’s too busy tracking down terrorists in mountain caves.

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the first vlog

The following is an assignment posted as part of my course Journalism Reimagined. Continue reading

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Sean Penn: actor turned journalist turned lobbyist

Fresh from his Academy Award win as best actor in “Milk,” Sean Penn is now pushing for a Harvey Milk Day in California, in commemoration of the life and contributions that Harvey Milk – whom he played in the film – had made.

It is not the first time that the actor has gone beyond the capacity of his profession to voice out his opinions – he had also been a foreign correspondent of the San Francisco Chronicle previously, making visits to Iran and Iraq between 2002 and 2005. In this article, he explained his sideline job:

Ever since the bombing of the U.N. building in Baghdad in August, I had felt increasingly tugged toward Iraq. As I had made my cautionary opinions known prior to our military engagement, in a self-financed letter to the president in the Washington Post (Oct. 18, 2002), and then reiterated those thoughts after our invasion of Iraq in a self-financed ad in the New York Times (May 30, 2003), I felt a responsibility to change or reaffirm my position in the context of the new situation for our U.S. soldiers, and Iraqi civilians as well.

And indeed, the first introductory line to his Iraqi commentary was this: Sean Penn went to Iraq a year ago not as an actor, but as a father, a husband and an American. In his articles, he writes about little things that jaded journalists would have become used to a long time ago — the way his wife and daughter rolled their eyes when he told them he was going to Iraq, the announcement on the plane requesting all women to put on the hijab, and being held at gunpoint by six guards.

His stint in the newspaper might have been a publicity stunt; it might have not. Whatever it is, his articles gave a fresh take on the two countries where many foreign correspondents were already reporting out of.

You can read his articles on Iran here, and Iraq here.

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Will you pay for international reporting?

News is becoming increasingly free, with more turning to free news websites like the New York Times. Just last week, Time published a piece on How to Save Your Newspaper by its former managing editor Walter Isaacson. In it, Isaacson argues that charging for journalism is the way for the industry to regain its foothold.

An example is Tom Poyk of the Iraq Hack, who has accomplished what few had done before. Wanting to go to Iraq to do reporting and yet not having the money to do so, he appealed — and got — readers to pay for his foreign reporting stint.

Now, a new non-profit project called Spot.Us has emerged in the United States to enable the public to fund stories that they are interested in. Acting as a portal, it enables visitors to browse through story pitches, and donate to that particular story if they’re interested. Among stories that have been successfully funded and completed are: From Plate to Plant: What Happens When You Flush the Toilet? and How Does the Economic Downturn Affect Small San Francisco Businesses?

Portals like Spot.US which brings together reporters and readers with common interests are then perhaps the way to the future of journalism. Though they are now mainly focused on community reporting, as this practice becomes established, sites like Iraq Hack in which readers fund international reporting might become the norm.

What do you think?

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the quintessential Singapore hangout

The following cultural report on a coffeeshop is posted as part of my course Journalism Reimagined. Continue reading

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in memory of fallen journalists

Iraq was the most dangerous place for journalists last year, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in Huffington Post article.

In the same report, it noted that 109 media staff died last year. Since Sri Lankan editor Lasantha Wickrematunge’s self-penned obituary was published in early January, 9 other journalists have been killed in the course of their work in the same month.

Just today, IFJ learnt about the death of another Sri Lankan journalist, who succumbed to injuries sustained in an artillery attack by the Sri Lankan Army on February 12.

“Local and foreign media organisations in Sri Lanka have been besieged by a campaign of intimidation led by senior Government officials seeking to shut down all independent sources of information about the ground realities of the war,” it wrote in a press release, calling for the Sri Lankan government to clarify the circumstances of his death.

To remember these fallen journalists, a museum and memorial was opened in Washington last year. This video takes a look at the memorial, and explores the common thread tying these journalists together: what it takes to to work in dangerous areas of the world.

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