Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Journalising abroad

So I know journalising isn't a word but I'm the boss here, don't blame Carleton.
This story about two American journalists sentenced to umpteen years of hard labour in North Korea scares me. Every time I hear of "western journalist kidnapped in Middle East," I worry. My devil's advocate of a husband likes to chime in with, "Well, maybe they should stop being idiots and going into such dangerous places." But the part of me that screams for storytelling cannot agree. Because that's what we are, we're storytellers. Many cultures have them. Each first nation clan relies on elders to pass down stories, so they know were they came from. Many African village tribes had designated storytellers whose job it was to educate people on how to farm, build houses, solve arguments, based on past examples or stories.
In the West, we have journalists, whose job it is to tell stories about what is happening. Each story matters to someone. There is always a human angle. Each story can affect a company's stocks; just a few written lines can hold great power. These stories are told to enlighten us, to educate. When done well, these stories inspire us, present us with the facts and let us make our own decisions.
When journalists from the West learn of stories they feel passionate about telling, it matters not whether the story takes them to the Peshawar district of Pakistan or the China-North Korea border. True, there are smart ways to traverse dangerous lands, and rules no journalist is above. But a story is a story and it must be told.
So when journalists are kidnapped, tortured, killed or made to live out jail sentences for crimes associated with telling a story, I am affronted. I know democracy is not a brush painted the world over. But, like I said, storytelling is. Censorship disrupts this service in many regions.
I don't know enough or have relevant experience to relay to you specifics, but journalism abroad, risky as it may be, is fundamental. It makes things understandable, relative, human.
In this case, I am not confused that it took Bill Clinton's visit, and the fact that one of the hostages was related to superstar power journalist Lisa Ling. It is sad, then, that so many others who don't have the same political sway on their side are left to fend for themselves.

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