Precursor to giant Journalism 3.0 Thesis.


[column]This is Semi NSFW and a little ADD, but it's worth it. John Roderick of the Long Winters and Merlin Mann have a conversation about work, pay, and "doing it for the love of the game."

Journalism is not on some island that's changing in a vacuum. Journalism is being forced to evolve as the environment that Journalism came to age in is changing rapidly. Musicians, designers, filmmakers are all having to figure out what to do now that it only costs about $2000 (usually less) to get into any of these fields and start producing. Cost of entry used to be the gate that kept the fakers and fanboys at bay from real work, but now any kid with a DSLR can show up and get A1 coverage. The risks seem small, the repercussions for improper coverage seem even smaller.

So how do you as a journalist (a real journalist) rise above the thousands of people who just like the idea of being a journalist on the weekends? Don't compete with them. Don't fight over the same carcass that a thousand hyenas are scrambling over, you're a leopard, go find an actual gazelle yourself and when you find that story, insist on getting paid properly. Always. Enjoy the video[/column]

Portrait of the Vulnerable

Three months ago, a larger neighboring tribe moved through this valley with their cattle and kaloshnikovs (AK-47s) that they picked up apparently from the LRA. The Ik–who traditionally are not armed–where obliged to allow this tribe to steel their cattle and honey their food and cash sources.

Kosovo 2003, Sliding sideways in a post-Iron-Curtan, post-Serbian, Balkan State.

[col-sect][column]Part 1: Know why you are going before you go.  

This applies to everything you are doing as a storyteller, and it can help you stay ahead of the ball in a variety of circumstances.  It’s mostly about perspective and is so basic that I think a lot of us miss it.

As I was prepping for Kosovo, my advisor (I was still in School) asked me why I was going.  I explained how I had taught English in Kosovo two years earlier and loved the people and the land and felt like I was drawn to talk about the issues that resonated with me photographically.

Because, what I think.” He said, “Is that really, you want to go over to take nice pictures and hang out in Kosovo.”

“No really,” I said, “I want to go over to try to talk about these issues.”

“Listen, I’m not going to keep you from going, but I think we need to understand each other.”  We talked more, and I convinced him that he had misread my intentions by convincing myself of the same thing.  This all proved to be a really lousy thing to lie to myself.  

I didn’t realize this until I had gotten there, was three days into my trip, anxious to start, and had I lost my fixer and only real contact in the region. 

Let’s call him Sammy.  Sammy was everything that you want in a fixer, his English was excellent, he was a good driver, knew the whole country and all the back roads, and even better, he had street cred.  Sammy was about my age and a bit of a national hero.  He was in one of the more epic brigades of the KLA during the war and had done some crazy things during that time.  Not horrific, just insigne.  People knew this guy, or at least knew of him, and better than that, they respected him.  We had a mutual friend and after a few conversations we became friends.  Sammy was eager to show me his country and help me break a few stories.  As an interesting twist, part of my comfort in working with him came in the fact that he had experienced a bit of a spiritual awakening in his life and had come to regret and repent from some of the things that he had done during the war.  I felt like I could develop a balanced understanding of the issues with this guy.


So I didn’t worry about the REAL issues with my story, I just worried about how to prepare myself for the country, the travel, and the experience.

The story that I pitched was going to be about the life of KFOR soldiers (NATO’s military presence in the region) and their relationship with the Albanian people in Kosovo.[/column]

[column]Did I worry about HOW I was going to gain access to a patrol of soldiers? No, Sammy will help me figure that out when I get there.  Did I have a plan B?  Well Sammy said he knew a few of the mine sweeping units that where working in the hills and he could set me up there.  He also said he could help me do a story on guys our age and what it’s like to live with what they lived with.  Excellent.  Where would I stay? Sammy.  How would I get cash?  Listen, Sammy is going to help me figure all this stuff out!  He knows people….

So you can imagine how it felt, three days in country, when Sammy told me that he couldn’t meet up with me because his father was being held in house detainment for the next couple of weeks as the UN War Crimes Tribunal figured how what this epic Brigade really did during the war.  Now his dad was dropped from all charges and they are fine, but I was screwed.

I went sideways.  I jumped from idea to idea, I scrambled to make connections and figure out logistics, but mostly I failed.

I had set up expectations for some one on the other side of the Atlantic, but had a different understanding about my own experience.  My instructor was expecting me to be sending him a true journalistic photostory, and I had set myself up to be carried by someone else because I mostly wanted to do travel-log photography.

I realized all this in-country when I ran into Brian Wytcherley. Brian was a fellow Brooks VJ student who was a bit ahead of me.  As my instructor saw my project falling appart at the seems, he recommend that I make contact with Brian to get my head strait.  As soon as we started talking shop I knew the difference.  Brian knew why he was there, and what he had to do.  He had made his contacts before he came and had back up story ideas.  The man traveled by any means necessary (he mostly hopped trains) to get to his locations.  He learned Albanian and Serbian phrases to explain himself.  The man had a mission.  Brian won CPOY and NPPA awards for his work in Kosovo that year.

I got a few great images, but NO essays, because I didn’t really go there to get essays.  If I was honest, I wanted to earn my “living and taking pictures in a foreign country off the beaten path” merit badge, not my “post war photo essay” badge.

Why are you doing your next big assignment?  Why are you taking time away from your friends, your spouse, your kids and hulling of to God knows where?  Is it for you, or is it about something bigger?  There’s no right answer, but you better know.  The more you reconcile all of that before you start work, the better you will be when things fall out from under you.[/column][/col-sect]

The reason Journalism as we know it HAS to die.

[col-sect][column]This graph has been floating around in the twitter feeds for a couple of days now.  I saved it to my computer and I keep looking at it.

John Emerson designed this graph for a NY times piece a few weeks ago.  It does a fantastic job of showing the depravity of situations in Africa as well as the depravity of several editing desks in the western world.  Something is not right here.  I hope we all can see that.  I have seen a few, very good explanations for the problem that basically boil down placing the blame on false meta-narratives.  Themes like Christians vs Muslims and West vs East, which the Darfur conflict plays right into, and which the issues in Congo completely confuse.

One could almost argue that the public made Darfur into a religious coldwar theater the way Angola or the first Afgani war was for the democratic west and communism.  To distill it more, I think that with Darfur there was a clear moral devision in the begining: "Helpless minority peoples being chased down and killed systematically by the majority people group in control the state."  Western Journalism has a box for that, we have seen this story before.[/column]

[column]It might be said that Western Journalism (maybe western narrative to be more fair) doesn't have a box for the complexities of Congo.  The ten years of rippling war that has reverberated through the DRC and it's eastern neighbors does not allow the video journalist on a deadline to cut a nice concise picture in time for the 6pm news.  Writers given 10 inches and a deadline are left trying to empty a dumptruck full of sand with their hands.  But really, I think you could have said the same things about Kosovo: it's a really complicated place with 2000 plus years of baggage, but we found a way to make it really simple didn't we?  Not always accurate, but digestible for the West.

My suspicion (and fear) is that really, no one cares about Congo.  We have no reason to care.  More accurately, we have not been given a reason to care. Journalism has failed to cover one of the most bloody events of the last 50 years because it wasn't flashy enough, because they couldn't find a romantic enough angle.  To quote Anneke Van Woudenberg, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch:

"I fear that the Congo conflict receives less coverage because many outsiders have bought into the preconception that Congo is the ‘heart of darkness’... if the country is somehow predisposed to dark atrocities and violence, and hence there is nothing new to report.  Yet many have misunderstood the real message of Conrad's book. It is not Congolese barbarism but rather the greed of outsiders that have plagued this country's history."

It's not romantic when we are part of the problem.[/column][/col-sect]