Phillip Martin reflects on the fight against racism in Boston

Phillip Martin. Photo by Meredith Nierman / GBH News.

The Boston Globe Magazine has published a tremendous personal essay by my GBH News colleague Phillip Martin on coming to Boston in the 1970s to fight racism. He was so bruised and battered by the experience that he returned home to Detroit — only to come back a year later and stay. He writes:

Boston was a 1970s version of 1960s Birmingham, Alabama, in my view, with white grievance over desegregation and voting rights updated as white protests over school desegregation through court-ordered busing. That history was precisely why I enlisted, somewhat naively, to go to Boston in the summer of 1975: to fight against racism.

We’ve come a long way, though we still have a long way to go. Please read what Phillip has to say.

Investigative reporting worth listening to

Phillip Martin
Phillip Martin

Earlier this year I listened to a remarkable investigative series by my WGBH colleague Phillip Martin called “Human Trafficking: From Boston to Bangkok.” Martin tracked the modern slave trade literally from Boston to Southeast Asia, interviewing victims as well as people working to end this horror.

I didn’t blog about it at the time, but I should have. And now I have another opportunity, because on Tuesday Martin received the Gold Award from the UN Department of Public Information. The series also was recognized as a Gold Radio Winner for Best Investigative Report.

If you haven’t heard the eight-part series, you should. I had to do some fiddling so that I could get it onto my iPhone, but it was well worth it. Martin told a harrowing story, and did what good investigative reporting is supposed to do — take an abstract problem and put human faces to it.

The press release from WGBH follows.

BOSTON, Mass. (June 20, 2013) — WGBH Radio earned two prestigious awards at the 2013 New York Festivals International Radio Programs and Promos Awards for the “Underground Trade” series. The eight-part investigative series on human trafficking, reported by WGBH senior reporter Phillip W.D. Martin, aired on 89.7 WGBH, Boston Public Radio, earlier this year. The series was selected by a special jury as the 2013 United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI) Gold Medalist. The series also was recognized as a Gold Radio Winner for Best Investigative Report for the same series. WGBH executive editor Ted Canova edited the series. WGBH senior engineer Antonio Oliart engineered the reports.

Martin was in New York on Tuesday evening for the awards ceremony.

“We are all very proud of Phillip. His energy, creativity and curiosity put him in the top ranks of his profession. We are all happy to have him reporting for WGBH and are proud to be associated with his work,” WGBH Radio general manager Phil Redo said. “I am very pleased that the New York Festivals and the UNDPI have recognized WGBH’s journalism. I congratulate Phillip and the entire WGBH News team for their continued commitment to telling the comprehensive, local stories that only local public radio can tell.”

The “Underground Trade” investigation and report was done in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University and the Ford Foundation. During his investigation and reporting, Martin traveled in the U.S. and across Asia to explore the modern slave trade of human trafficking. After the original broadcast on WGBH Radio, Martin’s report was shared nationally on The Huffington Post.

Phillip Martin joined the WGBH News team in 2010. He is a Senior Fellow with the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism and a 2012 International Center for Journalists Ford Foundation Fellow. He has received a number of journalism honors, including the 2012 PASS Award, the 2012 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Ongoing Coverage (team award), the Margret and Hans Rey WGBH producer award, the 2011 Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting, the 2010 Asian American Journalists Award for National Radio Reporting, the 2008 Ruben Salazar Award and the 2005 MABJ Radio Documentary Award. He is an adjunct professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Public Policy.

About that “Kony 2012” video

We may not have previously seen a social-media phenomenon quite like “Kony 2012,” the online video aimed at raising public awareness about Joseph Kony, the leader of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. I saw it on Tuesday, urged on by my son. He was skeptical from the beginning, having seen this. Today, some 50 million views later, “Kony 2012” is on the front page of the New York Times.

You may be familiar with the criticism by now, which I will attempt summarize as follows:

  • It oversimplifies a complex situation.
  • Kony’s forces, which once terrorized Uganda, have dwindled to a few hundred, and have long since fled for parts unknown.
  • Invisible Children, the not-exactly-transparent nonprofit that made “Kony 2012,” is pushing for the U.S. to launch an ill-advised military action.
  • The film plays down the brutal nature of the current Ugandan government, which, among other things, is considering a measure calling for the death penalty for gay men. (A star of the film is U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, who has been accused of inadvertently helping to foment anti-gay hatred in Uganda.)
  • The underlying message of the video is that bringing Kony to justice is something white people must do for poor, helpless black people.

“While I’ve been waiting years for a spotlight to be shown on Kony, what Kony 2012 is all about is shining the spotlight on [filmmaker] Jason Russell,” writes my WGBH colleague Phillip Martin on Facebook. “This is indeed a great white hope form of self-aggrandizement, albeit whatever good intentions he has.”

Personally, I’d been going back and forth on “Kony 2012” until last night, when I ran across this lengthy blog post by Ethan Zuckerman, an Africa expert who is director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media as well as the co-founder of Global Voices Online, which has rounded up African reaction to the film. It’s exactly the sort of nuanced, deeply knowledgeable analysis I would expect from Zuckerman, and I urge you to read it. (If you haven’t seen “Kony 2012” yet, this will take you less time.)

There’s no question that “Kony 2012” will raise awareness, and it’s possible that it will even do some good. But it’s not entirely clear what the goal is, or for that matter should be.

Video recorded by @rosebellk for Al Jazeera.