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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

Guests

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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  • MOFYC

    Mr. Ashbrook,
    I’m sure that going to the middle of the nightmare that is the DR Congo is not
    a “fantasy.”

    • adks12020

      A fantasy doesn’t have to be positive.

      • skelly74

        True, a fantastic adventure.

  • skelly74

    Did Mr Sundaram suffer any illness from food and water? How was the medical assistance, if needed?

  • MOFYC

    Question for Mr Sundaram: how
    frustrating was it to cover such a nightmarish conflict when you realized that
    such a tiny minority were inflicting such much horror on so many decent people?

  • hellokitty0580

    I think news outlets and African-based NGOs often want sensational, sad news from Africa. News outlets want sensational news because it sells more rather than happier instances when Africa functions. If news conveys Africa is doing well and improving it’s circumstances, NGOs may not get the support they need to deal with very real problems that are still happening in Africa. That’s not to say that problems shouldn’t be reported or that there aren’t very serious issues going on in places like the Congo. But Africa is definitely not all bad. It’s not all about poverty or uneducated people fighting each other. It’s a myriad of things and issues just like any other part of the world. There are so many happy and good things happening in Africa- art, music, and fashion- that are not reported to the United States. We don’t get an accurate picture here in the United States of Africa and unfortunately that perpetuates the “Heart of Darkness” stereotype of Africa.

    • hellokitty0580

      Also, there are lots of good reporters doing in depth stories on Africa on a myriad of topics. But it’s sad these stories don’t really make it to mainstream American news.

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