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Paris, je t’aime. More than ever.

Makeshift memorial near the Bataclan concert hall.

Makeshift memorial near the Bataclan concert hall.

“Do you know where you are?” the young woman who stopped me on Paris’ Avenue Parmentier asked, her voice edged with worry. A resident of the neighborhood, she was on her way to her boyfriend’s apartment when armed attackers started firing on nearby restaurants. There were rumors of continued shootings in the Paris area, and she couldn’t understand what I was doing outside.

She asked me again: “Madame, do you know where you are?”

I knew where I was. It just no longer bore any resemblance to the Paris that I know and love. Reporting on the terror attacks, I had rushed over to the city’s 10th and 11th Arrondissements shortly after word got out about explosions at the Stade de France and gunfire at several restaurants and bars.

As I made my way toward the besieged Bataclan concert hall, what struck me most were the empty streets. Off the beaten tourist path, the city’s vibrant and ethnically diverse eastern neighborhoods around Canal Saint-Martin and Place de la République draw a range of fashionable, young creative types. On Friday nights these areas are usually packed with revelers looking to kick off the weekend in the neighborhoods’ numerous bars, restaurants and clubs.

However, last Friday these areas were virtually deserted. Bistro owners hastily locked down their establishments, heavily armed police patrolled the area ordering everyone inside, cordons were set up, and all around me the shrieks of emergency sirens cut through the brisk November night.



Media Internships: Opportunity or Exploitation?

Lugging my laundry home during my days as an intern in Paris. Wow, I look miserable!

From my alumni listserv to the the New York Times, journo types have been buzzing about the one-time Harper’s Bazaar intern who recently launched a lawsuit at Hearst for lost wages.

Like most media internships, the Harper’s Bazaar gig, although unpaid, involved  considerable time, energy and hard work–up to 55 hours per week, according to the disgruntled former fashion intern.

I don’t know the specifics of her case, but the lawsuit appears to be a shaky one. Unless she was unaware of the gig’s lack of compensation before she took it, methinks the suit smacks of a bitter underling. One who thought the grunt work would give way to a full-time job, and wound up feeling used and exploited when it didn’t.

Still, the case has unleashed a lively debate among media industry types regarding the ethics of unpaid work. On the one side are those who argue that plum internships pay by way of experience and connections, adding caché to the resumes of industry wannabes that would otherwise be buried in the CV slush pile.

On the other side are those who decry unpaid internships as exploitative, a form of glorified slave labor that preys upon the young and eager.

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Humanitarian issues, Journalism, Links - Writing, Photojournalism

The Week’s Worthwhile Reads

The United States of Haiti?                                                                    Newly back from Haiti, Pooja Bhatia draws parallels between the beloved “dysfunctional little country” she left behind and the direction her homeland appears to be heading.

“…ensconced back home in the U.S., the Land of Plenty, I see reminders of Haiti everywhere,” Bhatia writes in an article for the Daily Beast. “Our infrastructure is crumbling. The able-bodied and quick-brained can’t find work. The chasm between the super-rich and everyone else has so widened that our elites seem to inhabit a different country.”

Overstated? Perhaps. But she raises some good questions. And I’m always pleased to see pieces that spotlight Haiti–a rarity since the earthquake-induced reporting frenzy died down and the majority of journalists moved on to other crises du jour.

The Amanda Knox Case and Journalistic Neutrality                                Speaking of media frenzies, the wrap-up of the Amanda Knox appeal and subsequent acquittal of the accused had more than 400 reporters descending on poor Perugia, which just wants to go back to being known for its chocolate. More interesting, is the polarization within both the public and the media over Knox’s perceived guilt or innocence. Shades of gray are all but nonexistent in the sensationalized murder case: the Seattle student is either a duplicitous, sexually-charged killer or the the victim of a sexist, arcane legal system.

Oddly, such polarization has crept into some of the media coverage, specifically within the reporting of two high-profile journalists. Rome-based Barbie Nadeau who has covered Italy for Newsweek for a number of years sides with the “guilty” camp, while Nina Burleigh, who moved to Perugia to write a book on the case, believes that Knox was a victim of misogyny at its worst.  

But where is the line between reporter and advocate? asks the New York Times. And to what extent should a journalist allow her opinions to bleed through her reporting?

Snuff, Barf & Amusement Parks: Scenes from the Real Afghanistan 

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Journalism, Photography, Photojournalism, travel

Friday Photo: Street, Naples

Naples in the Rain, BLN. March, 2006

One of my favorite guilty pleasures, La Strada is a pictorial rendering of Italian daydreams. Run by a couple of well-known journalists, most pictures are taken on the fly with point-and-shoot cameras or phones. The resulting snapshots depict Italy at its most appetizingly authentic.


The Tweet Heard ‘Round the World: Bin Laden’s Death & the New Media Landscape

Recently out of college, I had just returned to California from New York and was sleeping at a friend’s house when the blaring television cut through my haze of jetlag.

“That’s New York,” my friend said flatly, gesturing to the burning Twin Towers on the screen.

Anyone who remembers September 11, 2001, can tell you not only exactly where they were when they learned about what happened, but how they found out. As with any major global event of the day, the news was delivered via television, the radio or calls from friends.

Ten years later, news of the most pivotal event in the so-called war on terror also offers a glimpse at how much the media landscape has changed in the past decade.

Like many of my friends and colleagues, I learned of Osama bin Laden’s death on Facebook, while many others caught the news on Twitter. In fact, it was a matter of moments before former Rumsfeld aide Keith Urbahn’s 7:24pm Twitter post emerged as the “tweet heard ’round the world,” and sparked a social media firestorm.

“The way that the news of such a dramatic, sudden development spread around the world provides an interesting impression of today’s news landscape,” notes Federica Cherubin at Editors weblog.

If anyone has questioned the power and cultural relevance of social media in today’s news landscape, such doubts can finally, like the terrorist leader himself, be put to rest.

A decade is not a long time, and I find it fascinating how drastically the media landscape has changed. Will Facebook, Twitter and the like be around ten years from now? Twenty?

How will journalists report the next huge international media event and via which device will the news be distributed?

A different post for a different day, but the coverage of bin Laden’s killing marks the closing of a chapter, however symbolic, in more ways than one.

Humanitarian issues, Journalism

Three Cups of Controversy: on the Greg Mortenson Fallout

A “60 Minutes” segment that aired on Sunday called out humanitarian and author Greg Mortenson on the factual accuracy of his bestselling books “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones into Schools,” and questioned the financial practices of his Central Asia Institute (CAI) charity.

According to the segment, Mortenson fabricated significant portions of his books, including his tale of being held captive in Pakistan by the Taliban. Most damning perhaps, are allegations that rather than supporting schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a significant portion of the CAI’s funds are used to foot the bill for Mortenson’s book promotion and travel expenses to his various speaking engagements.

Among Mortenson’s harshest critics to appear on the program is author and journalist Jon Krakauer, who has also written a digital exposé entitled Three Cups of Deceit, a 75-page takedown of Mortenson and his bestselling memoir, “Three Cups of Tea.”

Calling the book “an intricately wrought work of fiction presented as fact,” Krakauer says that the public persona Mortenson has created is “an artifact born of fantasy, audacity, and an apparently insatiable hunger for esteem.”

“Mortenson has lied about the noble deeds he has done, the risks he has taken, the people he has met, the number of schools he has built,” Krakauer writes. “Three Cups of Tea has much in common with A Million Little Pieces, the infamous autobiography by James Frey that was exposed as a sham. But Frey, unlike Mortenson, didn’t use his phony memoir to solicit tens of millions of dollars in donations from unsuspecting readers, myself among them.”

As a fan of Mortenson’s work in Afghanistan and Pakistan (I promoted one of his recent speaking engagements in an earlier post), I have observed the ensuing firestorm with interest, and was keen to get my hands on a copy of Krakauer’s book. Among some of Krakauer’s more disturbing accusations:

  • The men Mortenson identifies as Taliban kidnappers in “Stones into Schools” were actually hosting him during his stay in South Waziristan. One of  Mortenson’s supposed Taliban captors has come forward as Mansur Khan Mahsud, a Pakistani scholar and the director of Research and Administration at the Islamabad-based FATA Research Centre, an internationally respected, nonpartisan think tank. According to Mahsud, in 1996 there weren’t even any Taliban operating near the area where Mortenson was staying.
  • When Mortenson travels to speaking engagements CAI foots the bill for his travel costs (including chartered jets and deluxe hotel suites), as well as expenses incurred by family members and personal assistants who often accompany him.
  • Rather than as fundraising or other overhead, CAI reports the millions of dollars it spends on book advertising and chartered jets as “program expenses.” Were they reported honestly, CAI’s fundraising and administrative expenses would actually exceed 50 percent of its annual budget.
  • The number of schools built in Afghanistan and Pakistan are less than Mortenson claims. Moreover, many schools stand empty due to a lack of ongoing funding. At least 18 CAI school buildings in Baltistan are not in use.
  • Upon realizing that something was amiss with the organization, a significant number of Mortenson’s employees has resigned. One former program manager discovered serious issues in Baltistan that contradicted what Mortenson had been reporting. After she revealed these problems to Mortenson, he ordered her to stay away from Baltistan.

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Foreign reporting, International reporting, Journalism

My Al Jazeera English Segment is Up

I make a brief appearance on this week’s Al Jazeera English’s “Listening Post” program discussing female foreign correspondents and sexual abuse. It was 6am and I had just returned from Southern California, so I’m afraid my sleepiness shows through a bit.

My sleepy floating head aside, the program is worth a look for its coverage of Libya, the relationship between journalists and war, and the dangers facing female journalists in the field.

Al Jazeera English: Intervention, warmongering and the media

Foreign reporting, International reporting, Journalism

Lara Logan: Female Correspondents and Sexual Abuse

The sexual assault on foreign correspondent Lara Logan in Cairo last week underscores the dangers facing many women who report from the world’s hotspots.

Veteran conflict reporter Judith Matloff discusses the issue at length in a 2007 article in the Columbia Journalism Review. (pdf)

“Female reporters are targets in lawless places where guns are common and punishment rare,” writes Matloff, who experienced a close call herself on assignment in Angola.

“War zones in particular seem to invite unwanted advances, and sometimes the creeps can be the drivers, guards, and even the sources that one depends on to do the job.”

Most troubling, says Matloff, is the number of incidents that go unreported. Fearing the loss of a beat or a job, many reporters keep quiet about sexual abuse.

“The compulsion to be part of the macho club is so fierce that women often don’t tell their bosses. Groping hands and lewd come-ons are stoically accepted as part of the job, especially in places where western women are viewed as promiscuous.”

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