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 – flexible tourists bend over to be photographed with a limb in all four.
Today, I try a global Four Corners: 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 North America.
This blog, which I’d dubbed From East to East — as I oscillated between my home in post-Communist Eastern Europe and work in China — now swerves 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
Posted in "From East to East", Africa, Blogging, Central Europe, China, Eastern Europe, European Union, Hong Kong, Journalism, Lesotho, Parenting, Teaching, Writing | Tagged Basotho, Freelance Foreign Correspondent, Freelancer, Journalism Training, Lesotho, Maseru, Parenting, Sesotho | 3 Comments »
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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[The following piece was published June 3, 2013, on The Mantle.]
Members of the Kick4Life Writing Club, to whom I taught HIV Journalism last year. (Photo: mjj)
MASERU, Lesotho – In November 2011, I was newly arrived in Africa, so full of hope, writing dreamily of Lesotho’s “veritable field of dreams” for journalism trainings.
Eighteen months later, rejection slaps me in the face so often, I’m ready to press charges. I’m a pauper on the streets, banging my tin-cup.
Hey buddy, can you spare a dime? Yes, it’s for a journalism training. But not only will it improve Basotho health, it just may save lives!
I came to Lesotho having taught journalism over the past ten years in New York, Central Europe and Hong Kong – and soon realized I was the only journalism-skills teacher in the entire “Mountain Kingdom.” I studied how to help a tiny nation of 1.8 million, clustered in hamlets among the tallest peaks of southern Africa. Not to teach any kind of journalism, but specifically, health journalism.
The list of what ails the Basotho of Lesotho is depressingly long. They suffer the world’s third-highest rate of HIV infection – an unfathomable 23 percent among the most sexually active, ages 15-49. Malnutrition has hit 40 percent, as two-fifths of the children under age 5 endure stunting of the brain and body. Then there’s TB. Diabetes. Breast cancer. Cervical cancer. And so on. Everywhere you look, bad news.
Meanwhile, it’s darn near impossible to find a decent example of explanatory journalism, to inform and educate society on simply how to cope with all this. Which is unsurprising, since Lesotho lacks any real journalism education or professional training. Among reporters and editors here, “The blind are leading the blind.” (Though, this is not their fault, as I’ve written in a related post.)
Though I’d landed in Africa with no contacts whatsoever – as a dutiful “trailing spouse” following my wife’s career in international development – so optimistic was I about my freelancing prospects that I boldly launched a new feature for my website, and immodestly named it The Media Missionary of Maseru.
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Posted in "From East to East", "Mantle", "Nieman Reports", "Transitions Online", Africa, Blogging, Central Europe, China, Eastern Europe, HIV/AIDS, Hong Kong, Hungary, Journalism, Lesotho, Media Missionary of Maseru, Photography, South Africa, Teaching, Writing | Tagged African Health, Basotho, Breast Cancer, Cervical Cancer, Development Journalism, Diabetes, Faculty of Health Sciences, Gender-Based Violence, Global Health, Health Journalism, HKBU, Hong Kong Baptist University, Human Trafficking, International Development Assistance, Internews, Journalism students, Journalism Training, Kenya, Kick4Life, Knight International Journalism Fellowship, Lesotho Media, Malnutrition, MCC, Millennium Challenge Account, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Multiple Concurrent Partners, National University of Lesotho, NUL, PEPFAR, Photos of Basotho, Photos of Lesotho, Population Services International, PSI, Pusha Love, Southern Africa, Student-Journalists, The Health Journalism Club, The Mountain Kingdom, Trailing Spouse, U.S. Embassy of Lesotho, UNICEF, USAID | 1 Comment »
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 »
Posted in "From East to East", "Mantle", "Transitions Online", Africa, Blogging, Central Europe, Hong Kong, Journalism, Media Missionary of Maseru, Teaching, Writing | Tagged "Christian Science Monitor", Foreign Correspondence, Freelance Foreign Correspondent, Freelance Journalist, Freelancer, Freelancing, Hong Kong Baptist University, International Journalism Program, International Reporting, Lesotho, Mridu Khullar Relph, Parachute Reporting, TOL Foreign Correspondent Training Course | 1 Comment »
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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Posted in "From East to East", "Postcard", Blogging, Central Europe, Democracy, Dictatorship, Eastern Europe, European Union, Hungary, Journalism, Lesotho, Parenting, Writing | Tagged Alcoholics, Alcoholism, Budapest Broadway, Cafe Culture, Cafes, Coffeehouse Culture, Eotvos Lorand, Extremism, Far-Right Parties, Graffiti, Habsburg Empire, Habsburg Monarchy, Habsburgian, Hungarian Broadway, Lake Balaton, Mitteleuropa, Nagymezo utca, Pew Global Attitudes Project, Politics, Romkocsma, Spray-Paint Vandalism, Vandalism | Leave a Comment »
[The following piece appeared Aug. 30, 2012, on The Mantle.]
Graduates of the July 2012 Foreign Correspondent course decompress afterward. Seated center is TOL Director Jeremy Druker. (Photo: mjj)
PRAGUE, Czech Republic – Foreign correspondence is dead. Long live foreign correspondence!
So wrote the British journalist-scholar Timothy Garton Ash not long ago. I couldn’t agree more, as a freelance foreign correspondent who has trained hundreds of young, aspiring colleagues in Prague – and just guided my 17th batch of trainees in how to secure their first foreign-datelined article.
Despite the plummet of foreign-reporting budgets and rise of the not-quite-a-journalist “Citizen Journalist,” various traditional and online media continue to allocate space for serious contributions from abroad. As Garton Ash rightly noted, there’ll always be a need for credible correspondents to do the “witnessing, deciphering and interpreting” of global events and trends for audiences back home.
What I can’t guarantee wanna-be correspondents, though, is that you’ll find full-time work abroad. Or can live exclusively off freelancing. Or will always be paid for material many editors now expect for free. You’ll surely have to hustle, as many do in a city like Istanbul. Or you may ultimately settle for a bit of foreign reporting on the side, coupled with a teaching, editing or PR-writing job.
But that said, nothing should discourage the hardier of you to at least try. Some surely will, to judge by the burgeoning of journalism programs world-wide, many of which seek to “internationalize” both curriculum and practical experiences for students. (See here and here.)
With this in mind, my latest training in Prague for the Transitions Online Foreign Correspondent Training Course gave me pause to consider how I myself broke into the business – and how I’d modify it today if I were to start over again. Here, then, is a revised roadmap to foreign correspondence.
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Posted in "Mantle", Blogging, Central Europe, Czech Republic, Journalism, Media Missionary of Maseru, Photography, Teaching, Writing | Tagged "Transitions Online", Foreign Correspondent, International Reporting, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Morocco, Timothy Garton Ash, TOL Foreign Correspondence Training Course, TOL Training | Leave a Comment »