A great many moons ago, I reviewed Anderson Cooper‘s Dispatches from the Edge, and commented on his questionable decision to travel on his own to Somalia with only a Hi-8 camera and fake press pass as his protection.
What I did not say in that review is that I, like so many other freelance writers, considered doing the same thing: examining how many responsibilities I have to shoulder in my life, and then considering the cost / benefit ratio of just packing up and chasing the story around the globe – whatever and wherever the story may be.
This MOJO (ie: mobile journalist) idea is especially appealing now that high-grade, lightweight and broadcast quality technology has come down to consumer level pricing, and now that major media outlets have begun looking for the raw news story from the people in the streets (rather than from the people wrapped in flack-jackets and embedded with friendly forces).
In fact, my friend David Widgington at Burning BIllboard has followed this Andersoncooperean ideal to its natural extension (though certainly by his own inspiration), arriving in the Sudan with a video camera and blog log-in and little else, in advance of the Sudanese elections, making trips back and forth. Sudan, of course, has only recently emerged from 21-years of civil war and approaches its first multiparty democratic elections since 1986 (edited for accuracy – swg).
As the Sudan struggles to develop the infrastructure to support these elections and fights to discourage the ferocious mistrust that spawned its prolonged conflict, David has placed himself in the action to document, report and explore it all (I recommend checking his site out) in what can only be described as a challenging environment.
However, as important as that all is, the real purpose of this post is to highlight a statistic that Journalism.co.uk posted about recently – that half of the world’s jailed journalists were working online.
While mobile, online journalists are most capable of breaking stories and avoiding the ‘officially-sanctioned’ stories of repressive regimes, they are often freelancers who lack the advantages of a traditional newsroom – which could include lobbying, potential mass media coverage of their kidnapping, and the application of other reporters to investigate a staffer’s disappearance.
The new breed of mobile journalist that we’re all becoming replaces the typical foreign bureau that we grew up watching, and operates more fully as an independent newsroom (mirrored by the increasingly overlapped skillsets of writing, reporting, shooting, editing and uploading that many nu skool freelancers embody), but lacks the solid shielding of traditional media outlets under the intense scrutiny of repressive governments. The MOJOs are, for all intents and purposes, alone with only cameras and press passes as protection.
If you have been looking around your city and wondering if the grass is more newsworthy on the other side, then I simply recommend you spend some time with the Journalism.co.uk article above. There are tons of opportunities in the world for valid, significant (and freelance!) journalistic practice (as BurningBillboard and others evidence), but with each, it is critical to arrive in the trouble spots informed and protected, or risk becoming another journalist lost in the maelstrom of politics, policies and police states.