MASERU, Lesotho – The passport is stamped U.S., but I’m unabashedly a citizen of the world, with a toehold on four continents: from New York to Hong Kong, Prague to Lesotho. As a foreign correspondent, journalism educator, Health and Development communications consultant, and father of three, I’m based in Lesotho, high in the mountains of southern Africa. As the lone Western correspondent here, I’ve covered the tiny Mountain Kingdom‘s unique political crisis for Foreign Policy, AFP, South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, and others. Meanwhile, I’m also teaching Health Journalism and storytelling in one of the world’s sickliest societies. And from next-door South Africa, I’m co-producing a documentary film – The Clubhouse: A Post-Apartheid Story – which explores racial healing and equal opportunity in The Rainbow Nation, twenty years later. At the same time, in Hong Kong, I’m a six-time Visiting Scholar teaching International Journalism, mostly to bright, young mainland Chinese; and in Prague, I’m Senior Trainer of a biannual course in storytelling from around the world. In fact, post-Communist Central Europe flows through my veins; that’s where I launched my own foreign-correspondent career two decades ago. Thank you for visiting my website – and for reading … Michael
Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category
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 on July 3, 2015| 4 Comments »
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 on May 31, 2013| 1 Comment »
[The following piece was published June 3, 2013, on The Mantle.]
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.
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 on November 28, 2012| 1 Comment »
[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.]
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. (more…)
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 on September 7, 2012| Leave a Comment »
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.
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 on August 30, 2012| Leave a Comment »
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.
Posted in "From East to East", Africa, HIV/AIDS, Journalism, Lesotho, Media Missionary of Maseru, South Africa, Teaching, Writing, tagged Alcohol, Basotho Youth, Beer, Curtis Gardner, Daniela Gusman, HIV Infection, HIV-Positive, Kick4Life, Leila Hall, Low Self-Esteem, Multiple Concurrent Partners, Soccer, Sport, Young Basotho on March 30, 2012| Leave a Comment »
MASERU, Lesotho – The email arrived on the eve of a journalism workshop I’d lead at Kick4Life, an NGO that promotes sport and HIV awareness in a country with the world’s third-highest rate of HIV infection.
The three-session workshop would be for the newly formed Writing Club, where young Basotho explore their first-hand HIV experiences with pen and paper.
No one here, it seems, is unaffected by HIV. My task would be to teach them a bit about third-person feature writing – to give voice to the voiceless. (For my dispatch on the workshop itself, watch this space in the near future.)
The email, then, was a collection of their vignettes, names withheld, for me to get a sense of what I’d be working with. The first few pieces start slowly, but they begin to bite harder and harder. Themes emerge: beer, sexual aggression, low self-esteem, risky behavior, HIV.
One teen apparently admit to rape. Another tells of a friend impregnated by her father. A third describes an HIV-induced suicide.
Taken together, they paint a striking portrait of life today for young Basotho. That’s why I’ve posted them below, unedited …
Though I always visited my girlfriend time and again, that her mother was pregnant I was not aware.
After giving birth, she openly told me she was HIV positive. Hospital officials told her after giving birth. She was so disappointed, lonely and felt alone.
Posted in "From East to East", "Mantle", Africa, Blogging, Democracy, Dictatorship, Eastern Europe, HIV/AIDS, Hungary, Journalism, Lesotho, Slovakia, South Africa, Teaching, United Nations, Writing, tagged Ellen Hume, Journalism Teaching, Journalism Training, Lesotho Association of Journalists, Media Institute of Southern Africa, Media Missionaries, National University of Lesotho, Transformation Resource Center, Transformation Resource Centre, Watchdog Journalism, Western Training on February 16, 2012| 1 Comment »
MASERU, Lesotho – My Hungarian in-laws didn’t take the news well.
It was late summer when my wife informed her parents that we’d be moving far away, to the southern tip of Africa – and hauling three beloved grandchildren with us. I thought I was safe from blame: three years in Lesotho wouldn’t be due to my career, but for my wife’s job in international development.
How naive I was. They pointed an accusatory finger, regardless.
“You should have been the one to dissuade her,” bemoaned my mother-in-law.
Another counter-argument emerged: But what will Michael do? I excitedly explained all the journalism teaching and training needs that would surely exist in a country afflicted with so many calamities, like the world’s third-highest HIV infection rate, or that 40 percent of the population live below the international poverty line – yet no full-fledged program to teach watchdog journalism.
In Lesotho, I envisioned an opportunity to make a difference.
“You sound like a missionary!” my father-in-law sneered.
What’s so wrong about that, I wondered.
I’m not talking about the real Christian missionaries I count among my new friends in sub-Saharan Africa (see here and here), or the “media missionaries” who purvey God’s word via various media tools.
I plan to evangelize, alright, but preaching the sort of serious, responsible journalism detailed by American journalist and media analyst Ellen Hume in her 2004 monograph, The Media Missionaries: American Support for Journalism Excellence and Press Freedom Around the Globe.
Three months into our stint in Lesotho, here I am: The Media Missionary of Maseru. And the media landscape here is even bleaker than I imagined.