I've been reading the news about freelance journalist and blogger Steven Vincent's murder. My condolences to his family, friends, readers and his journalism and writing community.
I respect his style of journalism - a lot. He was interested in the average Iraqi and their daily life. For him, the personal was political. The Washington Post reports:
Vincent left for Iraq in the fall of 2003 to investigate the terror of daily life there. He paid his own way, traveling without bodyguards and staying for two months at a time...
Vincent wrote a book last year titled "In The Red Zone: A Journey into the Soul of Iraq." Major bookstores took interest in the work, which was filled with searing portraits of ordinary Iraqis and their ambivalence about the American presence.
Retrospectively, I feel a great loss reading his last incisive writing, a New York Times piece:
"The British know what's happening but they are asleep, pretending they can simply establish security and leave behind democracy," said the police lieutenant who had told me of the assassinations. "Before such a government takes root here, we must experience a transformation of our minds." - "Switched Off in Basra", Steven Vincent, New York Times Op-Ed, July 31, 2005
Or these words from an Iraqi blogger: "He bravely continued to tell the stories and challenge the situation. His Stories from Basra are the epitome of great journalism, and he will always deserves our admiration utmost gratitude... I’ve been so depressed and down lately, and this news is the worst."
His colleague Kathryn Jean Lopez at National Review writes (includes a great resource to his articles) writes:
Vincent was a brave man who wanted to tell the truth, despite the deadly risks. That is noble, important work...
In June on NRO, Vincent wrote:
“You really shouldn’t be here at all,” a British-embassy official warned me.
Obviously he shouldn't have been. But thank God he was.
Thank you, Steve Vincent.
Outside of U.S. and other "safe" (it's all relative) free speech countries, we forget what a courageous act speaking out and writing authentically and reporting and blogging really are. I've met reporters and photojournalists that have had their lives threatened, snuck into countries without press visas (on purpose to cover areas where journalists aren't allowed), and had their sources murdered. When we speak of citizen journalism, one thing I'd like to learn is how to protect my sources' safety and not make their lives more difficult. For instance, there are rumors that fisherman in Sri Lanka aren't allowed to rebuild on their own land on the coast because the government has been eyeing their land for years and years. Now, they're using safety concerns as an excuse for a land grab. Being forced to reside kilometers away from the sea also effectively ends their fishing livelihood. Again, this is a 'rumor' as far as I'm concerned now. But how do I dig into verifying this story safely for all involved?
Vincent's style of work echoes a review I read about Emma Larkin's Secret Histories: A Journey through Burma Today in the Company of George Orwell (In U.S. it's titled Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Tea Shop: Travels in a Police State):
This could well be my book of the year... Secret Histories, like Anna Funder's Stasiland which describes life in the totalitarian communist state of East Germany, provides a personal perspective of a truly appalling regime that lets the reader begin to understand what it is like to live day to day under such an oppressive government. One thing that endeared me to the Burmans straight away was their love of reading, as described by Larkin: unsurprising due to the lack of real information which they receive, but also a national pastime and passion that has led numerous people to preserve secret libraries of books that have otherwise been banned by the authorities.
Whilst everyday life is undeniable misery in Myanmar, the people who Larkin describes are still full of life, some how finding the will to live and live fully despite their most restrictive of circumstances and to try and make tiny but vital movements towards making their country become free again.
This book is transformative - before I began reading it I knew virtually nothing about Burma - at the end of its 230 pages, I feel I've gained at least a valuable gloss on its modern history and, wholly secondary to that, an insight into what drove Orwell to write - it was on his return from Burma to England that he horrified his family by announcing his intention to resign from the colonial service and become a writer.
Secret Histories is truly a vital book, and, with Stasiland, seems to be opening up a new genre (I'm hating myself for writing these words): female writers providing a personal perspective of political troubles; not personal as in their own perspectives, but in that they piece together the histories of the states they're writing about through the stories of those who have lived within it. This strikes me as a vital counterbalance to our more traditional, and of course wholly necessary, overview histories. - "
Obviously, it's not only female writers that are piecing together stories of everyday people to tell a broader story about state, politics, culture. I'm checking out "In the Red Zone" right away.
I know a lot of journalists interested in doing this style of 'artisan' journalism. (I highly, highly recommend book, The New New Journalism btw.) But many of them don't have the resources (journalists aren't that well-paid) to fund projects themselves. I like the fellowship program that SAJA established (this year for late-year tsunami aftermath stories); but it's for journalists with creds, not citizens media. Typically what's required is just a few thousand dollars and some frequent flyer miles.
"I have my own camera," a female videographer pleads. She'd like to go to Indonesia for the tsunami anniversary. In all honesty, I'm making sure I have the resources to get to Asia myself first. This is a good time as any to announce I'm creating a microfunding non-profit to fund "real people, real story" artisan journalism type projects like this (Sandeep raised his funding online). The first (and not last) being the tsunami anniversary project.
If intereted in funding the microfund, send tax-deductible donations to: Tsunami Tour, c/o Unity Church of the Valley, 100 North Winchester Blvd Suite 250, Santa Clara, CA 95050. Make checks payable to Unity Church of the Valley (they are our fiscal sponsor for non-profit status). Please clearly indicate on check it is for Tsunami Tour. Paypal coming...
p.s. Interestingly personal observation on the "playing the game" BlogHer debate, I did notice there was a part of me that did not want to jump on the bandwagon as "Stephen Vincent" was #4 search term on Technorati today and #1 last evening. But he and his story haunted me...and I always go with that instinct.
p.p.s. And yeah, I noticed the same exact thing. Ah, I suppose it's credible to write for NYT, but funding and doing your own writing? The Cool Blue Blog sez: "All of a sudden, Steven Vincent is a 'journalist who wrote for the New York Times'. Not only was he freelance journalist, but as Greyhawk points out, he most frequently sold his stuff to the National Review. And he was a blogger."