SXSW Interactive: Learn from scientists for better journalism

Both journalism and science are about “the quest for truth” said the presenters at the SXSW Interactive panel “What Journalism Can Learn from Science.”

Journalists know something is true when two people say so, said Gideon Lichfield, media editor of The Economist, and Matt Thompson, editorial product manager at NPR and adjunct faculty the Poynter Institute. Scientists are much more rigorous. How can we make journalism more like science? Read more on SXSW Interactive: Learn from scientists for better journalism…

SXSW Interactive: Health media junkies spoiled with choices

Even though I’m no longer a SXSW Interactive newbie, this year’s huge selection of health-related panels has my head spinning.

The geek in me is drawn to all the mobile application and gadget panels which will showcase eyes-light-up technology that promise everything from help losing weight to pocket-size medical devices that can collect and send data in amazing ways. The reporter in me wants to follow the journalism track all the way through and spend time with my colleagues in our little corner of the media world. But the storyteller in me is drawn most to the panels that blend the tech and human elements of health media.

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Temptations of Power

Reading about Wikileaks’ release of American diplomatic cables makes me think about our vocabulary around foreign policy. How do we talk about foreign policy and who exactly should have access to information that U.S. representatives abroad collect? This summer, Peter Beinart told me that the public rarely drives foreign policy. In The Icarus Syndrome he called for Americans to engage and push back against abuse of power. He recently wrote in The Daily Beast that Wikileaks’ actions are little more than voyeuristic fodder and add little to public debate, but my conversation with him makes me wonder if the Wikileaks project could, at least, be a springboard for greater conversation about American foreign policy.

I wrote a review of The Icarus Syndrome and short Q&A with Beinart for the Abu Dhabi-based Afaq Al Mustaqbal Magazine, which translated the piece into Arabic and edited for length. It ran in Issue No. 7, Sept/Oct 2010 (PDF with Arabic text). Below is the text as I submitted it.

Temptations of Power

The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris
By Peter Beinart

By Angilee Shah

If the power of Fox News is a conundrum to Americans on the political left now, what Peter Beinart chronicles in the history of American politics shows that it is not a new dilemma. The tendency of the political elite to push ideologies to its extremes is cyclical and disastrous, or so goes the lessons of The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris.

Beinart’s last book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals–and Only Liberals–Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again, chronicled the history of liberals’ foreign policies and called for liberals in 2006 to take a strong position in the war on terror while remembering that power is not always a force for good. The Icarus Syndrome takes a broader view on the same theme. Writing across political parties, Beinart retells stories of political power at the outsets of World War I, Vietnam and Iraq, and sections them into ideological cycles, to remind us that power and success should not make us disregard the limits of our ideologies. Read more on Temptations of Power…

13 posts about careers in journalism

This might have been a better post last week, when I had a nice dozen posts for my new blog at ReportingonHealth, but it’s still a good time to take stock.

Every week since June, I have been writing about career issues that health journalists — and many other types of journalists — face in Career GPS. It’s a bit of a narcissistic task, in a way, because I answer questions that I am interested in for my own career. But in meeting the community on ReportingonHealth, I’ve learned that a lot of journalists have these types of questions too. From getting health insurance to becoming a better writer, here’s a quick sum up of the 13 posts I’ve written so far.

If you like this sort of thing and want to keep up with Career GPS, you can follow the blog’s RSS feed. If you are interested in health journalism, you can follow the site’s full RSS feed or subscribe to the weekly newsletter. Read more on 13 posts about careers in journalism…

Health care reform, diabesity and the language of health journalism

Since Sunday evening this week, I’ve been spending time with National Health Journalism Fellows in downtown Los Angeles. We’ve visited slum housing, debated the terminology used in news reports about domestic violence, spent an evening at the ER, and dissected the legislative debates surrounding health care reform. You can read my live-blogging from the seminar on at and keep up with later posts, written by other people, on The Fellowships Blog or with @ReportingHealth on Twitter.

But for now, here is a post about one of the panels which I thought merited some discussion, even beyond the health journalism sphere. The speaker gave some specific admonitions about language in news. You can comment here or at the orignal Reporting on Health post. Read more on Health care reform, diabesity and the language of health journalism…

Stephen Farrell, Sultan Munadi and a panel on war correspondence

Yesterday’s news that The New York Times correspondent Stephen Farrell was freed from captivity in Northern Afghanistan has been met with mixed emotions. His fixer, journalist Sultan Munadi, was killed in a raid of the compound where the two were being held.

George Packer at The New Yorker explains the often precarious position of fixers–the locals who help foreign correspondents with everything from translation to logistics–and expresses his frustration at what happened to Munadi in a blog post called, “It’s Always the Fixer Who Dies.”

In the course of the work, the fixer is relied on so heavily by the foreign correspondent that an observer who didn’t understand the system might assume that it’s the fixer who is in charge. After all, it’s the fixer’s country, and he or she knows it so much better. And yet the foreigner has the money, the name, the infrastructure, the power to hire and fire, and the ability to come and go, especially if things get sticky.

Packer’s post is exemplary of growing discomfort amongst foreign correspondents about safety for themselves and their fixers. Panelists in the first session of the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellowship 60th Anniversary Event, four seasoned conflict reporters moderated by CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, discussed the risks of reporting on wars. Read more on Stephen Farrell, Sultan Munadi and a panel on war correspondence…

A journalist’s role in reporting on conflict

Two Sri Lankan bloggers who I read regularly have recently had interesting things to say about the reporters who write about the long conflict on their island. They raise fundamental questions about the role of journalism in society, a debate that is heightened in conflict zones.

Read more on A journalist’s role in reporting on conflict…

my online journalism life

I started reading the introduction to The Elements of Journalism, published in June, 2006. I stopped at this paragraph:

When the flow of news is obstructed, “a darkness falls,” and anxiety grows. The world, in effect, becomes too quiet. We feel alone. John McCain, the U.S. senator from Arizona, writes that in his five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi, what he missed most was not comfort, food, freedom, or even his family and friends. “The thing I missed most was information — free uncensored, undistorted, abundant information.”

And it occurred to me that, though I was no prisoner, I shared this feeling when I was living in Singapore. I had comforts and avenues for learning, but I missed the vibrant news cultures of Bangkok and Mumbai and even Los Angeles. Lo and behold, a few paragraphs down, the authors, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, write this:

Read more on my online journalism life…

news and blogs in Phnom Penh

I feel a lot of pressure to make this an excellent post, because I talked so much about the importance of strong writing at Barcamp Phnom Phen on Saturday. Now I look back and I want to recast my presentation a bit: the most important thing, make no mistake, for bloggers in Cambodia is the content they produce.

And that’s something they don’t need a presentation to understand.

Wikitravel today says this about Phom Penh:

For western visitors, even those who have visited other Asian cities, Phnom Penh can be a bit of a shock. It can be very hot and (in the dry season) dusty, its infrastructure is lacking, and it is very poor – much poorer than, for example, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Visitors who cannot adjust to rubbish filled streets, constant harassment from tuk tuk drivers and touts, and large numbers of beggars, may not enjoy the city (though by no means will you experience all of these things.)

My experience there was completely different. We saw live music, ate great food along the Mekong, and bargained with tuk tuk drivers, who were generally good natured. I did not feel harassed in the least. The streets of Phnom Penh (which are relatively clean, I might add) are peppered with Internet cafes advertising email, VOIP and hi5 social networking access. There are computer shops and small web design and tech businesses. It’s a youthful, friendly city where people are interested in learning and curious about the world.

It was important to me that I put what I was seeing into context. I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, otherwise known as S-21, where 17,000 passed through the high school-turned-jail on their way to the Killing Fields from 1975-1979. Only seven survived. It was a sobering explanation for Phnom Penh’s youthful feeling; a generation of educated people was eliminated by the Khmer Rouge.

So I appreciated greatly the bloggers and journalists and techies who I met at Barcamp Phnom Penh. I see them as a very important generation who work very hard to revive a professional and literate culture not just for themselves but for people all over the world who want to understand Cambodia. (In English, try the comprehensive writing of Tharum Bun on Global Voices, news tidbits from Soponrith, nice vignettes on, or Seanheng’s sweet photoblog with occasional essays.)

The organizers nudged everyone to suggest topics or lead sessions. I couldn’t hope to repay our gracious hosts – I certainly learned more at Barcamp than any of the campers learned from me – but I talked a bit about the importance of good writing. The campers estimated that there are between 500 and 1,000 English-language blogs in Cambodies – not very many in the grand scheme of things. So I wanted to help those bloggers (or “cloggers” for Cambodian bloggers) reflect on their own writing, since they are helping people all over the world to learn about their country.

(See Dengue Fever for some ambiance music.)

Read more on news and blogs in Phnom Penh…