Freelance In Africa: A Young Reporter’s Story

We go to Congo with a young journalist who lived and reported there and look at how we get our foreign news today.

In this photo taken on Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, two wooden coffins, center rear, of the bodies of Congolese soldiers that were killed in an Thursday's ambush, are moved to an airstrip to be flown to Kinshasa, from Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo. (AP)

In this photo taken on Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, two wooden coffins, center rear, of the bodies of Congolese soldiers that were killed in an Thursday’s ambush, are moved to an airstrip to be flown to Kinshasa, from Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo. (AP)

Anjan Sundaram was a grad student with his head down.  Studying, going through the paces, pursuing the American dream.  And one day he thought – this isn’t where the world is at.  This isn’t at the heart of what’s going on.  I need to get out of here.  And he did.  To Congo.  The heart of Africa.  A great, chaotic battlefield.  He declared himself a freelance journalist, and went.  He was mystified.  Overwhelmed.  Robbed.  Poor.  But he learned.  And began filing news stories.  Stories you may have read.  Now he tells the whole story.  This hour On Point:  Going freelance, to Congo, Africa, with a young now-journalist who just did it.

— Tom Ashbrook


Anjan Sundaram, freelance journalist and author of “Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo.” (@anjansun)

Christopher Dickey, foreign editor for The Daily Beast. (@csdickey)

From Tom’s Reading List

NPR: Finding Your Feet in the Chaos Of Congo — “In journalism, a stringer is a freelance reporter or photographer who gets paid on the basis of each story or picture sold. So, much of the time there’s no regular salary, no living allowance, and often, no travel subsidy. It’s a tough way to make a living; especially since the competition in a major market like New York or London is prohibitively fierce. The trick for a young journalist is to find a location rich in material but light on the competitive side; the more poverty-stricken, dirty, corrupt and dangerous, the better. ”

Columbia Journalism Review: Woman’s work — “But whether you’re writing from Aleppo or Gaza or Rome, the editors see no difference. You are paid the same: $70 per piece. Even in places like Syria, where prices triple because of rampant speculation. So, for example, sleeping in this rebel base, under mortar fire, on a mattress on the ground, with yellow water that gave me typhoid, costs $50 per night; a car costs $250 per day. So you end up maximizing, rather than minimizing, the risks.”

POLITICO Magazine: The Darling Tyrant –– “The thing to know about Rwandan President Paul Kagame is not just that he is a dictator responsible for human rights abuses but that, despite this, he has a great many friends. Kagame, credited with commanding the rebel force that put an end to Rwanda’s genocide 20 years ago, has made himself a global celebrity. Bill Clinton hails him as among ‘the greatest leaders of our time.’ Tony Blair calls him a ‘visionary.’ Bill Gates works closely with him. Kagame has spoken at Harvard and received honorary doctorates from a number of universities in the United States and Europe.”

Read An Excerpt From “Stringer” By Andaram Sundaram

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