Mount Qiloane, symbol of the Basotho. (Photo: mjj)

MASERU, Lesotho – At the U.S. destination of “Four Corners” – where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah converge – tourists bend over to be photographed with a limb in all four.

Today, I manage a global Four Corners of my own: as an American foreign correspondent, journalism teacher-trainer, and freelancing father of three striving for a simultaneous presence in southern Africa, Far East Asia, Central Europe and the U.S.

This website, which I’d dubbed From East to Eastas I oscillated between my home in post-Communist Eastern Europe and work in China — has swerved south into sub-Saharan Africa, to document a journalistic journey that includes writing from our new home in the “Mountain Kingdom” of Lesotho, teaching in Hong Kong and training in Prague.

Spliced in are my articles and photos for Foreign Policy, Christian Science Monitor, Harvard’s Nieman Reports, The Mantle and many others listed to the right. Thank you for reading! … mjj

(The following text, trailer and photos will soon appear on the crowdfunding platform, Indiegogo, as my partner and I launch an online campaign to raise US$10,000 for our feature documentary, The Clubhouse. In post-Apartheid South Africa’s most racist town, our film explores how one Golf Club finally admitted a black man – and opened the door to racial healing.)

Our Project

We've been inspired by Samuel Phutigae's heroic journey -- and hope you will, too. (Photo: Justin Keane)

We’ve been inspired by Samuel’s heroic journey — and hope you will be, too. (Photo: Justin Keane)

April 27, 1994. A day that produced one of the seismic events of the 20th Century.

Nelson Mandela and the euphoric first democratic elections in South Africa – which snuffed out one of the world’s most racist and despised regimes: Apartheid. Overnight, voters handed power to the long-suffering black majority – and in a flash, reduced their white overlords to a vulnerable minority.

Today, exactly twenty years later, how can we gauge, and even illuminate, the depth of racial healing in The Rainbow Nation? This documentary provides compelling evidence. To tell the story, I went to South Africa’s most racist town, where I found one ordinary black man. Who’s done something extraordinary.

I’m an American foreign correspondent who has reported from 30 countries over the past 20 years, mostly across post-Communist East Europe and the former Soviet Union. I now live high in the mountains of Southern Africa, where I’ve teamed up with a South African filmmaker-activist, Danny Lurie, on a unique film project.

Thank you for taking the time to visit our Indiegogo campaign, to learn about the feature documentary that we’re making down here: The Clubhouse: One Black Golfer’s Fight for Equality in South Africa’s Most Racist Town.

Please watch our trailer, as we chronicle the heroic journey of one black man, from one notorious farming town, as he chases a seemingly simple dream: to play golf. The only course in town, though, belongs to the stubbornly, whites-only Golf Club. And the Club’s decision to finally relent and allow him to play their course speaks volumes about how far the white minority has come along, too.

“It was the right thing to do,” explains Club President Jacques Viviers. “And many of us knew it.”

Continue Reading »

Members of our July 2013 TOL Foreign Correspondent Training Course (Photo: mjj)

Members of our July 2013 TOL Foreign Correspondent Training Course in Prague. (Photo: mjj)

BUDAPEST, Hungary – I’ll never forget my sister’s reaction, when I told her ten years ago of my plan to teach journalism, too. To paraphrase, she wondered: What’s to teach? All reporters need is a pen, pad – and write down what’s happening. Right?

She herself is a family doctor, who’d absorbed a mind-boggling amount of specific material to become one. She wasn’t trying to offend me, or denigrate my craft. Yet her words gave me a greater appreciation for all there is to teach about journalism.

I began to mull more deeply not only how I do what I do, but why exactly I do it this way: from philosophy and psychology to strategies and techniques, in my research, reporting, interviewing and writing. Or, when handling sources, editors and others.

On the flip side – now that I’ve taught students and trained journalists on four continents – I’ve also identified what I cannot teach about journalism. Just three things, really. But they’re biggies, of course: curiosity, empathy and life experience.

Fresh from leading my latest foreign-correspondence training in Prague, I’m reminded why each of the three is also essential to producing the most meaningful, most effective story-telling from faraway lands.

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MASERU, Lesotho – A recent article appeared in the Lesotho media with little fanfare, like thousands of health-related articles before it. Yet it fueled my strategy to cultivate journalism education and professional training in Africa’s tiny “Mountain Kingdom.”

As the Lesotho Times article reported, the Ministry of Health unveiled shiny new dormitories for 120 local nurses, pharmacists and lab technicians. The Basotho reporter, presumably with head down, scribbling furiously, noted that speakers thanked the contractor, engineer and U.S. donors. Solar panels made the dorms energy-efficient, while the national water supplier “played a pivotal role … by building a sewer line.”

Nowhere, though, did the reporter illuminate the essential Why: “Why were these dorms built? Why are they so important? Why should readers even care?”

This example illuminates an ongoing pattern in one of Africa’s sickliest countries: the unserious state of media in a society that desperately needs serious and responsible health journalism.

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[When it comes to freelancing foreign correspondence, no one is more current or savvy than the Indian journalist Mridu Khullar Relph, the 2010 "Development Journalist of the Year." Mridu is also tireless in educating others about the field through her fine website, produced from her New Delhi home. So, it was my pleasure to answer her questions about how I do what I do. The following interview was first published on her site on Nov. 20, 2012. For more on freelancing, please read my August 2012 piece on how I'd break in today.]

Mridu Khullar Relph (Courtesy MKR)

Q&A With Michael J. Jordan, International Journalist

No, not THAT Michael Jordan. Although when it comes to his craft, he’s just as good.

I first “met” Michael online through a friend and was immediately struck by how open he was with his contacts, how helpful and encouraging. Michael and I became part of a small freelancers group that shared tips, editor names, and advice with each other, and when I interviewed Michael for my mailing list, I got such an amazing response, that I knew I had to share it with more readers.

His official bio: Michael J. Jordan is an American freelance foreign correspondent and journalism teacher-trainer now based in Lesotho. Beyond southern Africa, he also maintains a toehold in Asia and Europe, as a Visiting Scholar at Hong Kong Baptist University and as Senior Journalism Trainer for Transitions Online in Prague. He has previously been stationed in Hungary, Slovakia and at the United Nations, as a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and many others.

Q. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and the work that you do?

I’m an American foreign correspondent, journalism teacher-trainer, and freelancing father of three young children. Since November, I’ve lived in tiny Lesotho, in southern Africa, for my wife’s job in international development. Continue Reading »

Nagymező utca, the “Broadway of Budapest”: one of countless spots to soak in atmosphere. (Photo: mjj)

[The following piece appeared Sept. 7, 2012, on The Mantle.]

BUDAPEST, Hungary –
I’d fallen out of love. This summer, I wanted so badly for that passion to reignite. No, I’m not referring to my marriage, but to the grand old city of Budapest.

Eight weeks later, I’m delighted to report: the embers still smolder. The elegant architecture. The vibrant café culture. The festive night life. Feels like 1997 again!

Budapest is in my blood. I’m a Hungarian-American who launched a career here as a freelance foreign correspondent, back in 1994. I enjoyed the best years of my youth in the city, from age 24 to 30. My father was born here. My wife, too. My three kids spend large doses of time here – and speak the tricky language as well as natives.

Yet the politics of the place have often mortified me, during the two decades of transition from cruel Communist dictatorship to rapacious capitalist democracy. As the atmosphere descended into one of the most noxious in all of Europe, with hatred and depression sucking up oxygen, the capital, too, grew uglier: graffiti scarred the urban landscape; so many shops, boarded and abandoned; pee-stained alcoholics crashed out on benches along once-regal, Habsburgian boulevards.

We now live in Lesotho, in the hardscrabble mountains of southern Africa. In the tiny capital, Maseru, the three or four cafes, three or four restaurants, just don’t compare to Central Europe. As a frigid winter approached, I flew my kids – more an evacuation, really – up to the summer steaminess of Hungary. They’ve spent weeks reconnecting with their grandparents along the family-friendly, fried-fish-peddling shores of Lake Balaton.

Meanwhile, I’ve flown solo in Budapest much of the time, with the luxury – during hot days and breezy nights – to mill about the old stomping grounds of my free and footloose years of early adulthood.

My conclusion: both city authorities and denizens show signs of resilience.

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