Thursday, 6 August 2009

Why old-school journalism needs to make a resurgence

An inmate at the notorious S-21 prison

The Times

5 August 2009,

Yesterday, I read another incredible piece of reportage in the American issue of GQ. It spoke about the prosecution of war criminals in Cambodia, three decades after the terrible violence of the Khmer Rouge. In the space of four years, nearly two million people were murdered by their fellow citizens, in an orgy of cruel, inhuman violence that left deep, dark fingerprints on the soul of the nation. It’s a breathtakingly sad piece; one that is important for everyone to read – South Africans, perhaps, in particular.

In one paragraph, the author, Michael Paterniti, detailed a meeting with another editor – and it said so much about the sorry, rotten state of journalism today. I had to share it. (You can read the complete article online here).

not long after returning from Cambodia that first time, I had coffee with an editor in Manhattan. As happens at such meetings, an air of false importance hovered over the proceedings as we discussed “big stories” that seemed to have been overlooked by the media, even though we were the media. When I brought up the untried Khmer Rouge leaders, pointing out the 1.7 million dead from nearly thirty years ago, his eyes glazed. Yes—but no: More than that, he wanted to talk about Hollywood. “What people tend to miss,” he said, “is that George Clooney’s much more than an actor.”

I should add, this mirrors in many ways my own experience, trying to get South African media interested in covering the continued political and humanitarian crisis in Burma. Nine years ago, I interviewed detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon; only one local magazine was interested in publishing the story (the now defunct Style), and local radio and TV were, and remain, disinterested (aside from a brief “blip” last year when monks were being massacred – the interest waned, immediately, as the murders dropped off news headlines). Suu Kyi has always asked that we use our liberty to promote democracy in Burma. The truth is, the media cares more about Octomom than it does about detention without trial, censorship, and an illegal military dictatorship.

If anybody reading is interested in 45 minutes of recorded interview with one of the world’s most important freedom fighters, you know where I am…

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