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A Christian Science Monitor journalist, jailed in India, is released after 658 days

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a crowd in Houston. White House photo (cc) 2019 by Shealah Craighead.

While the international journalistic community is focused on the fate of Evan Gershkowitz, the Wall Street Journal reporter who’s been held by Vladimir Putin’s Russia since March 29, Russia is far from the only country where journalism has been criminalized. Sadly, one of those places is India, still sometimes described as the world’s largest democracy, but which has taken an authoritarian turn under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Among the journalists who’ve gotten caught up in Modi’s repression is Fahad Shah, who’s based in Kashmir and is a contributor to The Christian Science Monitor. Shah was released on bail recently after spending 658 days in jail on charges of “glorifying terrorism,” publishing “anti-national content” and illegally receiving foreign funds. The court system, however, ordered that Shah be freed on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence. The Monitor’s Aakash Hassan reports:

Global media watchdogs and journalists from the region view Mr. Shah’s experience as part of a wider crackdown on media in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where authorities have been accused of intimidation, harassment, and the systematic targeting of critical voices. Press freedom advocates have welcomed Mr. Shah’s release, demanding that all remaining charges against him be dropped and the blockade on his popular news portal, The Kashmir Walla, be reversed.

Reports Without Borders ranks India 161st on its list of 180 countries in terms of press freedoms, observing:

The violence against journalists, the politically partisan media and the concentration of media ownership all demonstrate that press freedom is in crisis in “the world’s largest democracy,” ruled since 2014 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the embodiment of the Hindu nationalist right.

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The Christian Science Monitor finds hope amid the horror of the Israel-Hamas war

Christian Science Center in Boston. Photo (cc) 2014 by Bill Damon.

In my undergraduate media ethics class the other day, my students and I talked about whether coverage of the war between Israel and Hamas is contributing to a sense of hopelessness. There is, in fact, so much legitimately terrible news that it’s hard to be optimistic about the prospects for peace and justice. Yet it’s important that we try.

One often-overlooked resource for times like this is located right here in Boston: The Christian Science Monitor, a 115-year-old publication that at one time was a highly influential news organization and that still does good work through its newsletters and website. As its homepage puts it, “the Monitor offers a story of our common challenges, and how we can begin to find solutions and credible hope.”

We listened to a 15-minute interview with Monitor journalist Ned Temko on why he thinks the current war, horrific as it is, might lead to a decent outcome. Temko certainly isn’t blind to the realities. This, for instance, is pretty bleak:

There is nothing, in my 40-plus years of covering both sides, that has been so wantonly violent against civilians, intentionally, as the October 7th attacks. It helps explain the ferocity of the intended Israeli response. I think psychologically and emotionally, it’s deeply changed how Israelis feel about their own army, their government, about the Palestinians, certainly about Hamas. And on the Palestinian side, as you point out, it’s kind of revived this sense of displacement because something like a million Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to the south of the Gaza Strip in anticipation of a major Israeli ground thrust into the north of Gaza.

But Temko adds that he is “hopeful” that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has reached such a terrible impasse that it may actually lead to a resolution — not soon, but in the years ahead. He explains:

I’ve had the good fortune not only to have covered this for a very, very long time, but to have covered both sides. I got to know both sides of this conflict on a human level. And if I can make the case for hope, unlikely though it seems now, I think it’s the following, that all the other options to this decades long conflict have been tried. Some resolution has sometimes been close, and I’ve covered that as well, but always ultimately failed. I think what’s different this time around is the immediacy, the visceral sense in which people on both sides have felt that this conflict is inescapably part of their lives, and not in a good way. That there is, for each of them, a dawning realization that their own interests in a stable, secure existence, in which they have a future, depends on some sort of resolution of this core dispute.

After we listened to the interview with Temko, we divided the class into five teams. Each was asked to find a story about the conflict that emphasized solutions, hope and optimism. Here is what they came up with:

“‘I Love You. I Am Sorry’: One Jew, One Muslim and a Friendship Tested by War,” by Kurt Streeter, The New York Times, Oct. 22. An account of a friendship between two women in Los Angeles, one Muslim, one Jewish. “Their close friendship,” Streeter wrote, “signals that the ties that bind adherents of Judaism and Islam can remain strong, even as the war pitting people of their faiths against each other rages.”

“Peace activists in Israel speak about their hopes for the end of war,” interview by Scott Simon, NPR, Oct. 21. Simon spoke with Sally Abed, an Israeli Palestinian, and Alon-Lee Green of the organization Standing Together. Green told Simon that “we see a lot of anger and a lot of feelings of revenge. And we do understand these feelings, but we do say in the clearest way possible, more killing of innocent people, more bloodshed, more feeding of this vicious circle of death and blood will not bring back anyone to life.”

“‘Let Gaza Live’: Calls for Cease-Fire Fill Grand Central Station,” by Claire Fahy, Julian Roberts-Grmela and Sean Piccoli, The New York Times, Oct. 31. On the surface, this story doesn’t inspire much in the way of optimism. The protest that is described was organized by Jewish Voice for Peace, an explicitly anti-Zionist organization, and it led to more than 300 arrests on charges of trespass and disorderly conduct. But it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment expressed in a sign that some of the protesters unveiled: “Never Again for Anyone.”

“‘I hope it can endure’: examples of Jewish-Arab solidarity offer hope in Israel,” by Bethan McKernan, The Guardian, Oct. 15. Abed and Green of Standing Together make another appearance in this story, was reported from Jerusalem. Wrote McKernan: “Thousands of volunteers of different ethnicities are working to help victims of the violence and clean up neglected bomb shelters, amid many other efforts at calming the heightened tensions around the country.”

“Opinion: We are a Palestinian and an Israeli in Los Angeles. We find comfort and hope in mourning together,” by Rana Shalhoub and Hila Keren, The Los Angeles Times, Oct. 17. These are not the same two Los Angeles women profiled by The New York Times. “Of course, our close connection does not mean we agree on all aspects of this catastrophic situation,” Shalhoub and Keren wrote. “But we feel grateful that our true care for each other has at least allowed us to unite around two things. One relates to the present: the value of mourning together all loss of innocent human life. The other relates to the future: the belief that humanity on both sides is key to breaking the vicious circle created by hate.”

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Courage and terrorism in the Middle East

James Foley speaking at Northwestern University in 2011

James Foley speaking at Northwestern University in 2011

Both James Foley, a freelance journalist who was reportedly beheaded by ISIS terrorists, and Steven Sotloff, a freelancer who has been threatened with execution, worked for Boston-based news organizations — Foley for GlobalPost, Sotloff for The Christian Science Monitor.

GlobalPost is currently going with a story reporting that the authenticity of the video apparently depicting Foley’s murder still hasn’t been confirmed. The story includes this statement from GlobalPost CEO and co-founder Phil Balboni:

On behalf of John and Diane Foley, and also GlobalPost, we deeply appreciate all of the messages of sympathy and support that have poured in since the news of Jim’s possible execution first broke. We have been informed that the FBI is in the process of evaluating the video posted by the Islamic State to determine if it is authentic. … We ask for your prayers for Jim and his family.

The Monitor so far has only run an Associated Press article on Foley with no mention of Sotloff. Foley is from Rochester, New Hampshire, and the Union Leader reports on the local angle. So, too, do The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.

The Washington Post reports on the unique dangers faced by freelance journalists in an era when fewer and fewer news organizations have the resources to send staff reporters into conflict zones.

Most journalists are like me: the biggest risk I take is that I might get overcharged for lunch. People like Foley and Sotloff — and all reporters and photographers who put themselves in harm’s way to bring back the story — are the true heroes of our craft.

More: GlobalPost co-founder Charles Sennott talks with WGBH Radio about Foley: “Jim had an amazing passion. He was courageous, he was fearless, and at times that caused great worry, concern and anguish for his editors. Foley took risks all over — in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and definitely in Libya, where he was captured, and he was held for 45 days, and eventually released. That changed him. That changed his sense of the calculus of risk, but it didn’t change his passion for what he wanted to do.”

Photo via Northwestern University, where Foley spoke about his earlier captivity at the hands of Libyan militants.

Yemma to step aside at Christian Science Monitor

John Yemma with Northeastern journalism students in 2011

John Yemma with Northeastern journalism students in 2011

John Yemma, who led The Christian Science Monitor from a print newspaper to a digital-first news organization, will step aside as editor next month. According to the Monitor, Yemma will be succeeded by managing editor Marshall Ingwerson.

I don’t know Ingwerson, but I do know Yemma, who worked in various capacities for The Boston Globe between stints at the Monitor. He is a steady hand, with good news judgment and unfailing decency. He has also been very helpful to my students when we have visited his newsroom.

In 2009 I profiled Yemma for CommonWealth Magazine as the Monitor was getting ready to undergo its digital transition. Today the former newspaper has given way to a free website, a paid weekly news magazine and several speciality emails. Readership is up and the subsidy the Monitor receives from the Christian Science Church is down.

At a time when most news organizations have cut back on international coverage, Boston is the home of three interesting projects: GlobalPost, a for-profit company headed by New England Cable News founder Phil Balboni; Global Voices Online, launched at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center, which tracks citizen media around the world; and the venerable Monitor, begun in 1908 by Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy.

Yemma has expressed an interest in returning to writing, according to the Monitor. Best wishes to one of the city’s finest journalists.

Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy. Some rights reserved.

Why Latitude News deserves your support

Maria Balinska

Americans are notoriously uninterested in international news, and Maria Balinska thinks it’s because they don’t understand how it relates to their lives. Her Cambridge-based start-up, Latitude News, is aimed at bridging that gap.

“People are put off by things that seem very far away,” she told Paul Gillin of Newspaper Death Watch shortly after her site launched in late 2011. “Our view is that if there isn’t a local angle, we shouldn’t do it.”

Now Balinska is ready to take the next step. The former BBC correspondent and Nieman Fellow has launched a Kickstarter campaign to pay for a weekly half-hour podcast, “The Local Global Mashup Show,” hosted by journalist Dan Moulthrop. The show would build on a monthly project begun last August with PRX, the Public Radio Exchange, as reported by Justin Ellis of the Nieman Journalism Lab.

As of this morning, she had raised $20,839. But if she doesn’t meet her $44,250 goal by Feb. 15, she has to give it back. It’s an interesting, worthwhile project, and I’m going to donate as soon as I post this.

Not long after Latitude News launched, Northeastern University journalism student Brenda Maguire produced a multimedia story about the site for my Reinventing the News class. It’s well worth having a look. Balinska told Maguire that her goal was to pursue news along three tracks:

“So many of the issues that we deal with as human beings actually are shared,” Balinska said in her interview with Maguire.

The Latitude News site is clean and attractive, and doesn’t overwhelm you with quantity. Instead, you’ll find high-quality, often off-beat stories on topics such as how parental controls developed in the United States are being used to monitor activists in repressive Arab countries; an extralegal marriage between two gay men in China and how it played out on social media; and the story of a lucky man in Britain who stumbled across whale vomit valued at nearly $70,000 while walking along the beach. Latitude News’ stories combine original reporting, commentary and aggregation.

With all but the largest news organizations closing foreign bureaus and cutting back on international coverage, Greater Boston has proved to be a hotbed of experimentation in how to make up for that shortfall. The fledgling online-only news site GlobalPost and the venerable online-mostly Christian Science Monitor cover international news seriously and in quite a bit of depth. Global Voices Online, started at Harvard Law’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, tracks and compiles citizen media around the world.

You can add Latitude News to that mix. We’ve never needed to understand the world around us more than we do today.

Correction: I originally described Latitude News as a nonprofit. In fact, it is a limited liability corporation.

Photo (cc) by Brenda Maguire and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Editor hangs up after accusing reporter of “harangue”

I want to share this exchange between Christian Science Monitor correspondent Jessica Bruder and Al White, editor of the North Andover-based Eagle-Tribune.

Bruder wrote a story about what happens to civic life in a community when newspapers die or shrink. And one of the topics she touches on is the Banyan Project, which is scheduled to roll out a cooperatively owned news site in Haverhill next year to be called Haverhill Matters.

The Eagle-Tribune covers Haverhill, as does an affiliated weekly, the Haverhill Gazette. So let’s check in, shall we? Bruder writes:

Dissenting from the notion that Haverhill is undercovered is Al White, editor of the Eagle-Tribune. The company, whose downtown Haverhill office closed in March, still publishes a regional paper covering more than a dozen towns including Haverhill, along with the weekly Haverhill Gazette.

“Name one community where people won’t say that,” Mr. White says, addressing local claims of inadequate coverage. “This is a silly conversation.” Asked in a phone interview about the home page of the Haverhill Gazette’s website, where the most recent story in the schools section was more than 100 days old, he replied, “Do you want to have a conversation, or do you just want to harangue me?” Then he hung up the phone.

Wow. And yes, as of this moment the most recent story in the Haverhill Gazette online schools section is exactly 123 days old.

Yet the daily Eagle-Tribune features fairly robust coverage of Haverhill as well as a separate Haverhill print edition. These are tough times. Just last week the Eagle-Tribune and its sister papers — owned by an out-of-state chain — eliminated 21 jobs.

In other words, Al White and his staff appear to be doing the best they can under difficult conditions. I’d like to think if he had simply said that, then the Christian Science Monitor — not exactly known for snarky negativity — would have given him a respectful hearing.

Three local projects keep an eye on Egypt

Not the first time I’ve said this, but whenever a big international story develops, you can’t go wrong checking in on three news organizations with Boston roots that specialize in foreign coverage.

The most venerable is the Christian Science Monitor, whose commitment to serious journalism extend back more than a century. Now mostly online, the Boston-based news site has correspondents on the ground in Egypt and other stations in the Middle East. Here is a telling passage by Kristen Chick, who’s been covering the protests:

Reinforced, the crowd marched onto the bridge, gathering around two troop carriers the police had been forced to leave behind, along with several of their members. A crowd surrounded the policemen angrily, but some protesters pushed them back.

“This is a peaceful protest,” they yelled. “Don’t hurt them!”

A young policeman walked past, sobbing uncontrollably on the shoulder of a protester.

“It’s OK, you are our brother, you are with us now,” said the protester.

Reporting from Israel, the Monitor’s Joshua Mitnick finds that the Israeli government is anxiously watching what is unfolding in Arab states all around them.

You can follow the Monitor’s coverage of Middle East protests here.

Also well worth following is GlobalPost, the international news agency started by New England Cable News founder Phil Balboni and former Boston Globe foreign correspondent Charles Sennott. GlobalPost reporter Jon Jensen supplements his work with a video report (above).

In an attempt to get ahead of the story, Hugh Macleod considers whether Syria’s repressive regime could be the next to tumble. His conclusion: no, because President Bashar al-Assad has taken steps to spare his people from the grinding poverty that afflicts Egyptians.

You can follow GlobalPost’s coverage of the unfolding Middle East story here.

The most unconventional of the three is Global Voices Online, begun at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center a half-dozen years ago and dedicated to rounding up and synthesizing citizen journalism of all kinds.

Before the Twitter crackdown, Global Voices’ Ivan Sigal posted a fascinating compilation of tweets, blog posts and videos, including a harrowing scene of protesters falling off a water truck. And here is a comment from something called the Angry Arab News Service, in a piece written by Global Voices’ Amira Al Hussaini, reacting to yesterday’s speech by Egyptian President (at least as of this writing) Hosni Mubarak:

Mubarak is speaking live. He is digging a bigger hole for himself. He is insulting the protesters. HE said that he has been sympathetic to the poor all his life. Is that why billionaires surround you, you dictator?

Global Voices has put together a special section called Egypt Protests 2011.

Chile and earthquake fatigue

I hope I’m not just channeling my own dysfunction, but it seems to me that interest in the Chilean earthquake is pretty limited. There’s plenty of coverage out there. But this is not a story people are talking about, especially in comparison to the Haitian earthquake. The reasons are pretty obvious:

  • Haiti is close to the United States, and Chile is on the other side of the world. Related to that is the fact that Haitian-Americans are a large minority group. Chilean-Americans are not.
  • Media consumers are suffering from earthquake fatigue.
  • Even though the Chilean earthquake was much more powerful, it appears that the death toll and the suffering will be far less than was the case in Haiti.

With that, a few ever-so-slightly non-mainstream sources for you to look at: If you’re not accustomed to heading for the Boston Globe’s Big Picture blog after something like this, well you should be. The New York Times is gathering user-submitted photos. Global Voices Online — which is holding its annual conference in Santiago, Chile, in May — has posted two blog round-ups, here and here. And Boston-based GlobalPost has uploaded a number of stories and photos from the scene and the surrounding area.

And let’s not leave out Boston’s Christian Science Monitor, a leading non-profit source of international news. A story on why Chile seemed so well-prepared, for instance, yields this gem:

Chileans are well versed in what to do during earthquakes, with drills part of every child’s schooling. “Just in case” attitudes, which might seem obsessive in other parts of the world, are the norm here. One woman says she turns off the gas valve every time she leaves the house, just in case a quake strikes when she is out.

George Merry’s local legacy

George Merry, a longtime political reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, who died on July 1, is someone I knew slightly. We were both graduates of Northeastern University, and George often attended events organized by our journalism alumni group in the 1980s.

He was a proper gentleman, and though I can’t say I was intimately familiar with his coverage of Massachusetts politics, I could tell from talking with him that he was a fine journalist, fair-minded and curious about the world around him.

Gloria Negri has a lengthy obit in today’s Boston Globe. The Monitor ran a tribute on July 7.

Last fall I was reporting a story on the Monitor for CommonWealth Magazine. Monitor executives had just announced they were going to eliminate the daily print edition, going instead with their already-excellent Web site and a new weekly magazine.

Among the angles I wanted to explore was whether it might make sense for the Monitor — which is, after all, based in Boston — to re-establish its local presence at a time when the Globe and the Boston Herald were getting smaller and smaller.

The angle didn’t pan out. But I did have a chance to interview Merry, reaching him by phone at his home in Hyde Park. He clearly wasn’t well, and he labored to speak. Yet he was as courteous and helpful as he could be.

The Monitor, of course, is known for its national and especially its international reporting. Merry, though, told me that the Monitor took its local coverage very seriously at one time, and that it was an ideal training ground for the paper’s stars of the future.

“When I first went on the New England bureau staff, there were at least a dozen reporters,” he said. “I think we brought a different viewpoint. It was a different voice. It wasn’t so commercially oriented.” He added, though, that “it got very expensive to maintain.”

Merry was also skeptical of the Monitor’s plan to eliminate the daily print edition. “The Internet’s a wonderful thing, but I think it’s somewhat of a risk,” he said.

George Merry was not well-known outside of local media and political circles. But he was a good guy and a pro, and he’ll be missed.

A local take on global coverage

Three of the most interesting experiments in online coverage of international affairs are based right here in Greater Boston.

Global Voices Online, launched several years ago at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, at Harvard Law School, is a site at which journalists cull and curate bloggers from around the world.

GlobalPost, a new project started by New England Cable News founder Phil Balboni and former Boston Globe reporter Charles Sennott, is assembling a worldwide network of correspondents and developing a variety of free and paid models.

And of course there’s the venerable Christian Science Monitor, which recently dropped its daily print edition. (It unveiled a weekly print magazine this week, but the emphasis is on the Web site.) There’s a Globe connection with the Monitor as well: the current editor, John Yemma, is a Globe alumnus.

Even as we lament the ongoing collapse of the newspaper business as we’ve known it, there are reasons to be optimistic about the survival of journalism. I thought I would take a look at how each is covering the anti-communist protests in Moldova, which have captured some worldwide attention because of the role played by social networks, especially Twitter.

Though none of the three is as comprehensive as what my former Boston Phoenix colleague Ellen Barry has been providing for the New York Times this week, each has been covering the story in unique ways.

This Global Voices post, a round-up of blog commentary by Veronica Khokhlova, along with two previous posts to which she links, shows some of the strengths and weaknesses of citizen journalism: the bloggers are good at giving you a flavor of what’s happening, but you get little idea of why it’s happening. I imagine this would mainly be of interest to people with a deep understanding of Moldova.

Indeed, folks at Global Voices will tell you that some of their most dedicated readers tend to be journalists and academics. Khokhlova’s post is not something I would want to wade into without at least having followed some of the mainstream coverage first.

I like the photo, which I found by following one of Khokhlova’s links, not because it’s great photojournalism — it isn’t — but precisely because it’s so mundane. I think it gives a better feel for what it must be like to be in the middle of a protest than a more dramatic shot would provide. Then again, isn’t giving you a true picture what journalism is supposed to do?

I’m also struck by the observation that if Moldovan young people had used a social-networking tool other than current media darling Twitter, the protests might not have received as much attention from the West.

At GlobalPost we find a 13-photo slideshow by Robert A. Reeder that takes us from a celebratory concert staged by the communist government, through protests and violence, and finally to a shot of Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, who has ordered a crackdown and blamed the government of Romania.

Reeder’s pictures, along with the photo captions, give you enough of a flavor that you come away feeling as if you know something about what’s going on. But, as with the Global Voices post, this is supplementary material, not a substitute for a well-wrought news report.

Finally, the Monitor, on its Global News blog, presents a post by Fred Weir that is characteristic of Monitor journalism: it’s short but surprisingly deep, offering just enough news and lots of perspective and analysis. It carries a Moscow dateline, and lacks the up-close feel of the Times coverage. But it may be all that a curious, intelligent general reader needs to know.

Weir’s post went up on Wednesday, so the Monitor hasn’t been as timely on the Moldova story as the Times’ Barry has. But judging from Barry’s story in today’s paper, not a whole lot has gone on since then.

All in all, an impressive performance. If you start with the Monitor, then check out Global Voices and GlobalPost, you’ll come away pretty well-informed about a remote corner of Europe.

Photo taken from the blog Kosmopolito, linked from Global Voices Online, whose content is made available through a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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