Around the world, journalists have long struggled to report against hostile governments, in times of censorship andand war. But what does it mean to be a writer in a place where being a journalist can feel like being public enemy number 1, 2, and 3, where there is often no institutional support and funding, little acknowledgement, and where as "local journalists", there is little of the prestige or awards or opportunities that writers in the U.S., for example, often can access. Local journalism, after all, is mere fodder, local journalists merely bring the great color and quotes that end up being shared as part of someone else's work.
Here are some stories about how journalists work, and what it means to contend with challenges that can seem unfathomable to the world. And while I was writing this up, I thought about how striking it is that one can actually find reportage about reporters abroad, but little of their own work in some? most? international media outlets. There's so much to be said about how utterly broken the system of pitching, commissioning, and writing is, but that's for later.
“Bodies of Evidence” (Laurent Gayer, Nida Kirmani and Zia ur Rehman, The Friday Times, February 2017)
In Pakistan, photojournalists work the morgue circuit to get grisly mugshots of dead criminals. This story peels back how they do this – and why there’s a culture of printing macabre photos of corpses in local Pakistani newspapers.
“Bangladesh war: the article that changed history” (Mark Dummett, BBC, December 2011)(Original piece: “Genocide”, The Sunday Times, Antonio Mascarenhas, June 1971)
In 1971, the journalist Antonio Mascarenhas traveled with the Pakistan Army as it stamped down on dissent from the country’s eastern wing – East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh – and saw the military’s planned campaign of brutally eliminating dissent in force. The story is an incredible piece of reportage, and the story of how Mascarenhas managed to write it and evade arrest – and save his family from reprisals – is testament to his commitment to tell the story.
“It’s Always the Fixer Who Dies” (George Packer, The New Yorker, September 2009)
Journalists Sultan Munadi and Stephen Farrell were held captive while reporting in Afghanistan; Munadi was killed in a raid while Farrell survived. George Packer’s lament for Munadi – the interpreter who died while his colleague was freed – is bitter and knowing, and strikes at the deeply unjust imbalance between the lives of journalists and the fixers they depend on.
“The unique burden of covering climate change in the Middle East” (Mark Schapiro, Pacific Standard, August 2016)
Reporting on climate change in the Middle East means contending with the intersecting forces of government and powerful figures in the economy, but investigative journalists are trying to bring out the stories of polluted rivers and emissions in a region where journalism practices itself are subject to censorship – and self-censorship.
“Kidnap, rape and ‘honor’ killings: on the road with a female reporter in rural India” (Snigdha Poonam, The Guardian, March 2015)
An immersive look at how a newspaper covers rural India through a feminist lens, and how women investigate stories that impact women.
“Woman’s work” (Francesca Borri, Columbia Journalism Review, July 2013)
An Italian freelance journalist in Syria tries to report on one of the bloodiest conflicts in recent history. She gets paid $70. The piece is a brutal indictment of how news organizations use freelance journalists; Borri wrote a follow-up piece in the Guardian about the response to her account from freelance journalists, and why the conflict itself had been forgotten in the conversation.
Unbylined (Roads & Kingdoms, ongoing)
This is an excellent series of interviews with fixers from around the world on how they report, the demands made of them, the challenges and the reporting credits.
"The Dissenters,” (David Remnick, The New Yorker, February 2011)
David Remnick profiles the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and the challenges it faces as it tries to balance idealism, reportage on the conflict with Palestine, and the polarization of society.