21 Jul

Afghan Fellow covers U.S. exit, dire consequences

Humayoon Babur, a reporter and editor from Afghanistan, is working with international correspondents and his colleagues at the Kabul-based Pasbanan News Agency to describe the deteriorating conditions since the U.S. military’s departure.
Babur, a Daniel Pearl Fellow in 2019, and Hugh Tomlinson, a staff correspondent for The Times, had an article published Wednesday about the Taliban’s crackdown on the media in territory under their control.

The scores of journalists fleeing the Taliban advance confirmed that local newspapers, radio stations and broadcasters have shut down as staff members go underground, terrorized by murders of media workers in recent months.
A few outlets have survived by agreeing to self-censor their work, replacing news reports with Islamic sermons, recitations from the Quran and Taliban-approved bulletins.
For a previous article with Tomlinson in The Times, Britain’s oldest national newspaper, Babur interviewed Afghans about the Afghan army’s retreat. More than a thousand troops fled across the Tajikistan border in the face of Taliban advances.
The Afghan soldiers escaped across a bridge after being routed by the insurgents during clashes in the northern province of Badakhshan. “Most districts in Badakhshan are falling without any fighting,” a resident of Faizabad told Babur.
A few days before leaving his post, Gen. Austin Scott Miller, the commander who masterminded the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan, expressed alarm at the speed of the Afghan army’s retreat.
The Taliban onslaught came within hours of the last U.S. troops vacating the massive military compound at Bagram airbase, a linchpin of the American war effort during 20 years of conflict.
“The Taliban have cut off all gates out of the city, and there are checkpoints on all the roads, searching for government officials,” a Badakhshan resident said. Those who can have abandoned the city, by air of course.”
Babur has continued to report from the front lines and Pasaban, where he works as an editor, continues to publish.
In this week’s article in The Times on the media, Pasbanan founder Shershah Nawabi said that security was worsening by the day and that most journalists were trying to leave.
Journalism was always a perilous job in Afghanistan. Dozens of journalists have died during the 20-year conflict, and Danish Siddiqui, the award-winning Reuters photojournalist, was killed in a Taliban ambush in southern Kandahar last week.
The Taliban’s wave of murders also has targeted lawyers and professional working women.
Babur worked with Tomlinson on a story about ISIS attacks targeting female journalists and the murder of two female supreme court judges in Kabul earlier this year, part of an increasingly vicious campaign to eradicate Afghanistan’s educated middle classes. (Babur approved the use of his stories in our newsletter)
Babur improved his journalistic skills and English language abilities during the fellowship while working at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Park Point University’s Center for Media Innovation, which improved his chances of landing freelance work with international publications.
Babur co-authored a story published in the Pacific Council magazine earlier this year about the wave of violence targeting women as the United States was contemplating withdrawal from Afghanistan. Many courageous Afghan women have paid the ultimate sacrifice while striving for a better future for their country, he wrote.
Not all of Babur’s articles focus on the fighting. In another collaboration for the Pacific Council magazine, he wrote about the completion of a dam across the Helmand River on the Afghan-Iran border in Nimruz province in February.
One of his interview subjects lives on the outskirts of Zaranj, the capital city of Nimruz, where nearly half of all residents face a shortage of potable water and agriculture.
Humayoon Babur is one of many journalists whose careers have been transformed by their experiences during the Alfred Friendly Fellowships, and their impact broadened. Please take a minute to contribute to our organization so we can continue training promising young reporters from Afghanistan and other areas of the world that need high-quality reporting.

Alfred Friendly’s Class of 2019 gathered during their training at the Missouri School of Journalism.

18 Jun

Ugandan alum recognized for brave reporting in Tigray region

As the East Africa correspondent for The Associated Press, Rodney Muhumuza has closely covered the warfare and its tragic consequences in the Tigray region of Ethiopia since the conflict broke out in November.

However, Muhumuza and other journalists could not reach areas under the control of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the party of Tigray’s ousted and now-fugitive leaders. The Ethiopian military refused access, so the reporting was confined to reports from people who fled the battle zone.

But earlier this month, Muhumuza and a video producer and photographer from The AP managed to report firsthand from Hawzen, a town that was held by Tigray’s rebels.  The AP gave Muhumuza and the rest of the all-formats team its Best of the Week award “for smart, careful and courageous reporting to become the first outside journalists since the conflict started to interview fighters loyal to the TPLF.”

The Tigray reporting project was supported by The Pulitzer Center, whose executive editor is also a former Alfred Friendly fellow, Marina Walker Guevara.  

Muhumuza was working for Nation Media Group in Uganda when he was selected for an Alfred Friendly fellowship in 2009. After training, he worked for nearly six months at The Kansas City Star, mentored by now-Alfred Friendly President Randy Smith. With new skills and world-class experience, Muhumuza was hired by The AP soon after he returned to Kampala, where he still lives with his wife and three sons.

The reach of Muhumuza’s work now is immense: More than 15,000 news outlets subscribe to The AP, and its staff is known for fast, accurate and unbiased news reporting from 250 locations worldwide. More than half the world’s population sees AP journalism every day. 

The AP said Muhumuza’t team spent days trying to find someone willing to take them into Hawzen to meet with fighters loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Roads that were said to be open turned out to be blocked, and officials, even international NGO workers, were reluctant to talk. 

“Access required passing through numerous dangerous military checkpoints,” The AP said. “Knowing the dangers of staying too long, the team limited themselves to less than an hour in the town. Working quickly, they managed to obtain exclusive reporting on the fighters occupying the town, as well as a hospital destroyed and looted by Eritrean forces. Hours after the team left, government troops shelled the town. By the next day, it was back under government control.

Muhumuza returned to Kampala to continue covering an even bigger story, the Covid19 pandemic. His most recent story was about the vaccine shortage in Africa.

“A sense of dread is growing in some of the very poorest countries in the world as virus cases surge and more contagious variants take hold amid a crippling shortage of vaccine,” he wrote.

“Africa is especially vulnerable. Its 1.3 billion people account for 18 percent of the world’s population, but the continent has received only 2 percent of all vaccine doses administered globally. And some African countries have yet to dispense a single shot.”

Muhumuza is one of many journalists whose careers have been transformed by their experiences during the Alfred Friendly Fellowships, and their impact broadened. Please take a minute to contribute to our organization so we can continue training promising young reporters from East Africa and other areas of the world that need high-quality reporting.

Rodney Mohumuza, center and to the right of Jonathan Friendly, poses with the other members of the Class of 2019 during their training seminar. Randy Smith is in the top row, far right.

27 Apr

Cuban alum reports on crises in his native country

Editor’s note: Mario José Pentón emigrated from Cuba to the United States via Guatemala and Mexico in late 2015, a dangerous 1,600-mile odyssey using a “coyote” to get across the border. During his Alfred Friendly fellowship in 2016, Pentón developed multimedia reporting skills at the Missouri School of Journalism, applied them during his internship at el Nuevo Herald and taught them to his colleagues at 14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent news platform.

While many other Cuban émigrés left out of desperation or fear, Pentón is clear on why he came to the United States. “It was the possibility that I could help Cuba,” he said for his profile story in 2016. He’s now working full time for both the Miami Herald’s sister paper and 14ymedio, primarily reporting on Cuba through his large social media network and letting people know what’s really happening on the secretive island.

By Mario José Pentón

The last few weeks have been crazy busy. My co-worker just gave birth to a beautiful baby, so the job of covering Cuba falls on me almost completely. I doubt that without the training I received in Missouri with Alfred Friendly and without the experience at the Miami Herald, I could not have endured so much work.

On April 16, during the eighth congress of the Communist Party, Raúl Castro, Fidel’s younger brother, formally withdrew from the leadership of the only party allowed in Cuba. This was a historic event because, for the first time in 62 years, a Castro did not direct the destinies of the Cuban nation. At least in name.

The reporting we did at the Miami Herald was focused on helping people understand the meaning of this change of command. We included the perspectives of analysts and experts and the thoughts of Cubans inside their country. The island is experiencing its worst crisis in 30 years, just like in the 1990s when I was born, what is called a “special period” there.

Covering Cuba is not easy. We are more than 200 miles away and we face among other things the demonization by the regime and censorship. Agents of the secret police of the regime have threatened my relatives for the work I do, to give you an example.

Penton interviews an immigrant on the U.S. border with Mexico in 2019

Today’s Cuba is a country eager to express itself freely, but still living in fear after decades of censorship and repression. Covering the coronavirus pandemic has been complicated by the paucity of official media and censorship. There is evidence that Cuba manipulates the statistics of Covid19 deaths and illnesses at the same time that it carries out a very strong propaganda campaign to sell its vaccine candidates and medicines that are not tested against the coronavirus.

Without tourism for months because of the pandemic restrictions, the fragile Cuban economy has been left without one of its main sources of financing. It turns out that Castroism for 60 years has not been able to create an efficient industrial base. For decades, the country lived on subsidies from the Soviet Union, an estimated $65 billion in all, and then was aided by the oil wealth of Venezuela until the leadership led that country to the worst crisis in its history.

The economic crisis that the island is experiencing is palpable as scarcity increases. Lines to buy food are seen all over Cuba. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the government adopted a series of long-delayed reforms such as the unification of the currency, which collapsed the purchasing power of Cubans by more than 50 percent, according to economists. The Cuban economy is one of the hardest hit in Latin America because the crisis had been brewing before the pandemic.

In the midst of this crisis, and with an increase in repression to a level unseen since the thaw initiated by the Obama administration, many Cubans see only one way to salvation — the sea. They try to reach the shores of Florida without knowing whether they will drown, or get caught by authorities in the water or on land and returned to the island. So far this fiscal year, the number of “rafter” interceptions has doubled. I have had to write sad stories, such as the case of a mother and her two young children who died when a boat taking them to Miami capsized.

As the island plunges into another crisis, pro-democracy activism in Miami picks up steam. A group of internationally known artists decided to break with the regime and sing for freedom. Hence the song Patria y Vida, which the regime has taken as an affront.

On the island, several movements led by artists have raised their voices calling for greater civic freedoms. This led to unusual protests in Havana and to episodes such as those that took place in the San Isidro neighborhood, on the outskirts of the capital: people prevented the police from arresting dissident artists and sang Patria y Vida — a song forbidden by the authorities — in the middle of the street.

[Alejandro González, a former 14ymedio leader, describes Alfred Friendly’s impact on 14ymedio in this short video.]

Penton Interviews the United States Charge d’Affaires in Havana, Mara Tekach


The 2016 Fellowship Class at the University of Missouri




20 Apr

Ukrainian Fellow returns to war front amid Russian buildup

As Oksana Grytsenko writes in her dispatch for The Guardian, a massive buildup of Russian combat troops near Ukraine’s eastern border and the effective collapse of a ceasefire have sparked alarm in the west that Moscow is preparing to invade.

Grytsenko says her reporting benefited from her Alfred Friendly fellowship

Grytsenko has covered the war with Russia since its beginning for the Kyiv Post and now for The Guardian and other publications. She returned to the borderland this month and spoke to Ukrainians living in a small government-controlled town close to a separatist stronghold who feel “fear and despair.”

When the war began in 2014, natural gas supplies were cut and have still not been restored. Most of the town’s businesses were either destroyed by the fighting or ceased trading. Many of the fields in the agricultural hinterland are mined, which makes farming impossible. Drinking water has to be bought since the water in taps and wells is contaminated. …

In the evenings Marinka is deserted, apart from occasional groups of teenagers and stray dogs roaming the centre. A few men quietly fish at a local pond, ignoring the signs that it is mined.

(90-year-old Vera) Basova survived the second world war and says she never thought she would have to endure another, even longer, war at the end of her life. When she hears shooting or shelling, she reads her prayer book to calm herself.

Here is a link to the article, and below is Grytsenko’s personal account of her work: 

“I had a big break in my trips to the war-torn Donbas. It was quiet last year. A ceasefire that started in July and lasted for about six months was the longest and the most similar one to a frozen conflict. But the events this year showed how fragile the ceasefire is and how easy it can be rolled back to real war.

 “I haven’t been to Marinka before, but many things there were familiar to me. Sounds of shooting and shelling, bad roads, damaged houses, mines and slag heaps, signs about landmines, a broken phone connection near military facilities. And there was also the feeling of an approaching danger in which local people live. Because any ceasefire always ends up with an escalation.

In her front yard, Vera Basova holds a paper with a front page headline that says Russia is bringing tanks to the eastern Ukrainian border. “What do they want from us? Why are they dragging those tanks here?” Basova asks her neighbour. Photo by Anastasia Vlasova

 “I had the same feeling of relief when I traveled to the United States in the summer of 2015 for my Alfred Friendly fellowship. Apart from improving my journalism skills and English, getting to know American culture, and acquiring many great friends, the six months of my fellowship helped me to erase the stress I received from my work in Donbas. I returned to Ukraine revived.

 “But many people living in the Donbas had no break from that situation. Now the war is in its eighth year. And nobody knows for how many years the local people will have to live with a feeling that someone may destroy everything they have at any moment.”

Grytsenko. walks with Alfred Friendly classmates at the journalism school in 2015 with Randy Smith, the president of our organization and one of a dozen. professors who teach the fellows and prepare them to work in U.S. newsrooms

09 Apr

Alum in Myanmar recounts coup, worsening conditions

Saw Yan Naing, an Alfred Friendly Fellow in 2015, worked for BBC Burmese and wrote for the Global Investigative Journalism Network and other international publications after his fellowship. He was a technical lead and media trainer at an international organization that closed its office in Myanmar after the coup.

By Saw Yan Naing 

Early in the morning on February 1 in Yangon, I woke up without internet service or access to the phone and television networks.

I went outside and asked people in my neighborhood if they were able to use the internet and make calls. They said they were not.

It turned out that millions of people in Myanmar were cut off from the internet and mobile phone networks, except for those in some cafés, offices, and homes with WiFi. We could only watch a military-owned television channel, Myawaddy TV.

Yan Naing worked in Los Angeles for Tribe Media during his Friendly fellowship

News of a coup and the arrest of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint was the talk of the town. People fearing the consequences of the coup rushed to the markets to buy food while others went to ATM machines and banks to withdraw money.

A journalist friend of mine came to my home to check if I was safe and doing well. We went to a café where we could use WiFi to check the latest news.

Myawaddy TV announced a one-year state of emergency followed by a general election. After the election, power would be handed over to a winning party, a presenter reading from a script said. The presenter on Myawaddy TV announced that the new acting president was U Myint Swe, a former general who had been serving as a vice president.

I told my journalist friend that this one-year state of emergency is not a good sign for media workers, activists, and press freedom. We realized that the military, also known as Tatmadaw, will rule the country for at least one year.

Anticipating the risk of late-night raids and arrests, many journalists, including myself, moved around from one place to another to make sure we remained safe. Many journalists downloaded Signal apps to share information for safer communication. Some managed to use international sim cards and virtual private networks (VPN) as the internet is not stable.

An editor of a local media outlet told me that intelligence police officers from Special Branch went to ask his neighbors the whereabouts of his office and kept their eyes on his reporters. Five media workers were arrested on the night of February 14 while covering and live-streaming the tension between protesters and the joint force of police and soldiers. They were released on February 15 after signing a confession letter.

On February 16, the military-appointed State Administration Council held a press conference in Naypyidaw. Spokesperson Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun said that the chairman of the State Administration Council, the army chief Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, recognized the media as the fourth pillar.

Zaw Min Tun told Radio Free Asia at the press conference, however, that it was important that everything should be done within the bounds of the law and the military will do everything in accordance with the law. He also said that journalists whose writing encourages civil unrest would face action in accordance with the law.

The military prepared a cyber law. Media workers and activists fear that the law will be used as a tool to monitor and oppress journalists as well as limit press freedom, like the law that was used by previous military regimes.

So far, media workers and civilians, especially digitally savvy young people, continue to use digital platforms to report what is happening in Myanmar. However, we don’t know when this freedom will come to an end without warning. Internet shutdowns, restrictions to press freedom, and the fate of journalists in Myanmar remain uncertain under the one-year state of emergency.

Burmese media operating overseas and foreign media outlets will play an important role in reporting on Myanmar if and when the country is completely shut down.

The situation in Myanmar is getting worse as fighting and airstrikes were launched in southwestern Burma’s ethnic Karen State, my home region, forcing thousands to flee home. (When Yan Naing was a child, army soldiers attacked his home village and forced his family to flee. They lived for years at refugee camps just across the border in Thailand.)

The army airstrikes during the last five days of March in Karen State killed more than 10 people and injured at least 7 people. More explosions and fires were reported in big cities. Fighting between the Burmese army and ethnic armed groups in rural areas is escalating, forcing villagers to flee home and live in fear.

Activists, politicians, journalists, and even government employees fled violence in Myanmar, seeking safety in neighboring countries such as Thailand and India.

Protesters, especially young people, responded to military troops using guns and tear gas by creating homemade explosive devices and homemade guns. More than 600 people, including children, have died since the coup on February 1 and the military crackdown.

The situation in Myanmar is getting worse, and there is a possibility of civil war renewing under the military regime.

We honor Saw Yan Naing for his bravery in sharing this dispatch and appreciate his commitment to journalism at this challenging time. Your support goes directly to supporting the Fellows program that Yan Naing benefitted from in the past. Learn more and donate here: Thank you!

19 Mar

Friendly alum starts radio show on science in Thailand

Sinfah Tunsarawuth teamed up with Thailand’s premier university to launch a science show on Chula Radio this month, with episodes on the country’s potential to produce its own vaccines and on its ability to develop useful strains of medical marijuana.
“As I have told friends, this show is good for any non-Thai listeners, and, of course, local Thais as well, who want to get to know about Thailand, apart from its frequent military coups, street protests, beaches and food, Tunsarawuth said.
The 1988 Alfred Friendly Fellow is the editor and producer of the English-language radio show, Unlock The Science, broadcast on the multi-media platform owned by Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University.
“This project was born out of the idea that if this country’s top university would like the world to know about it, it has to speak in English language to the world,” Tunsarawuth said.
The 30-minute show each Saturday features Thai scientists, researchers and experts and their contribution to the advancement of global science.
“Some Asian followers have said that this kind of program is what is needed in Southeast Asia,” Tunsarawuth said
Unlock the Science is funded by the university and can be accessed through the website, the station’s Facebook page, and in podcast form.
Tunsarawuth was working at an English-language daily in Thailand, The Nation, when he entered the fellowship. He worked for five months at The Seattle Times.
“After my fellowship, I became much more confident in my work as a journalist,” Tunsarawuth said.
“I remember that I initiated a large number of good stories and articles in The Nation after I returned from the United States,” he said. In the late 1990s, he returned to school to get a bachelor’s degree in law and now practices as a media lawyer in addition to his work in broadcasting.
“Under this current project, I am applying what I learned in journalism from the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship in my reporting, editing and production of the show,” Tunsarawuth said.
“I have been telling my younger journalist friends that Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship is the best journalist training program in the United States, and have been encouraging them to apply, as I am aware that so far there have been only three fellows from Thailand.”

11 Mar

Through his own reporting, Daniel Pearl Fellow recounts frightening pandemic experience in Bangladesh

By Emran Hossain

The first case of Covid-19 surfaced in Bangladesh last year on March 8, not far from where I work in the capital Dhaka.

The onset of the virus in one of the most densely populated places on the planet frightened people who started hearing that the virus was spreading through the air. They also learned a new term – social distancing.

Initially it seemed like the end of the world as we know it. An invisible drape of silence fell on the city, which was deafeningly noisy even the day before. 

I wrote a story for New Age Bangladesh about panic buying and the stockpiling of medicines touted as potential Covid-19 cures.

Neighbors stopped greeting neighbors. Passersby refrained from looking into each other’s eyes, as they prepared to withdraw into their homes, seemingly for an indefinite period. Workplaces closed one after the other. Soon a nationwide lockdown was enforced with army checkposts set up at strategic locations.

At this point another frightening thought popped into my head: It was definitely the end of the world for broadsheet journalism — my livelihood, my love. 

I worked at The Daily Star in Dhaka before the fellowship, and now report for New Age, an English-language daily based in Dhaka. 

Even before the coronavirus emerged, the newspaper industry was already gasping for breath, suffocated by the expansion of online media and new laws curtailing freedom of expression. And now, all of a sudden, advertisements disappeared, and there were no visible regular activities to cover. 

Daily newspaper owners immediately decided to reduce the size of their publications, bringing down the number of pages, and sacked dozens of journalists.

Pressure mounted on reporters because for the first time in their working lives all activities officially stopped. There was suddenly nothing obvious to cover unless you were a reporter assigned to health issues. I began looking up online how journalists in other countries covered the first days of pandemic to plan my own work.

The fellowship experience in 2013, which included five months of reporting for Huffington Post in Washington, made me more confident and assertive despite pressing challenges. 

I spent hours glued to my laptop mining information and sharing it with local experts over the phone to put the data into perspective. I had confidence in computer-assisted reporting to which I was introduced as a Daniel Pearl Fellow.

I started writing about everything from weather reports to scarcities of toiletries and disinfectants. I reported that the use of diesel fuel suddenly fell by half and was continuing to drop, which overwhelmed storage operators because there was no place to put their pre-ordered fuel supplies.

Soon I felt I needed to go out on the streets. Journalists were not barred from going out during lockdown but restrictions on movement subjected them to many checks at security road blockades. I realized that the outside world must be crawling with people, the poor and homeless, the informal sector workers who used to live day to day but have been without work for a while. 

Walkways in upscale neighborhoods where women strutted in designer dresses not long ago were now occupied by the destitute, who waited from morning to night for the rich to come out of their comfortable homes to help them. Most of them had dignified lives before the pandemic, holding low-paying jobs such as domestic help. They turned into beggars overnight. 

There were people brawling in the streets over donated emergency relief supplies.

Neither the government nor non-government organizations had any plans to help homeless people

Corruption and mismanagement undermined the government effort to feed the poor through subsidised open market shops.

And for months hospitals refused to accept patients with general diseases and health problems. A primary reason was that health providers did not having enough personal protective equipment.  

Reports such as Bangladeshi scientists sequencing the coronavirus genome brought some relief. 

But the bad news outweighed the good. Many people succumbed to greed even during the darkest of all times by, for example, supplying substandard PPEs to health service workers.

The government mechanically kept advising people on the importance of healthy eating habits staying cheerful. But its employees kept sending ghost power bills to consumers. 

At mid-year, with the monsoon around the corner, there were piles of discarded PPEs at places in Bangladesh, reminding us that even a global pandemic was not enough to bring people to their senses. Waste management officials in Dhaka admitted they were unable to properly dispose the plastic garbage.  

With inoculation going on full swing there is hope for normalcy to return soon, in terms of people being able to mingle like before. Officially, COVID-19 claimed 8,423 lives and infected 547,316 people here as of March 2. But the return to the pre-pandemic economic status would not be easy for Bangladesh because the pandemic made 24 million newly poor and left thousands jobless.

Emran Hossain at a park in Washington, DC, when he worked at Huffington Post. Hossain provided insight for Huff Post newsroom colleagues when he helped cover the deadly factory fires that took place in Bangladesh during his fellowship 


09 Mar

Freedom House calls for stronger independent journalism

Freedom in the World 2021, an alarming report by Freedom House just released, recommends actions that support an independent free press to counter a rise in authoritarian governments.

The Alfred Friendly fellowship program trains journalists from countries where press freedoms are increasingly under attack. The graduates are committed to bolstering a free and independent press in their home countries through ethical, innovative, and influential reporting.

“Democracy’s defenders sustained heavy new losses in their struggle against authoritarian foes, shifting the international balance in favor of tyranny,”  the Freedom House report asserts. “The countries experiencing deterioration outnumbered those with improvements by the largest margin recorded since the negative trend began in 2006. The long democratic recession is deepening.”

The Freedom in the World report includes policy recommendations for democracies that include:

  • Support free and independent media, and protect access to information.

“Providing the public with access to fact-based information about current events is one of the best ways to combat authoritarian power…”

Please click this link and contribute to our nonprofit organization so we can train journalists to bring more light to the authoritarian darkness that threatens freedom around the world.

Former fellows — and future fellows — are working in the countries where the free and independent media is struggling or barely surviving.

India, the world’s most populous democracy, dropped from Free to Partly Free status in Freedom in the World 2021. “The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its state-level allies continued to crack down on critics,” the report said. “The ruling Hindu nationalist movement also encouraged the scapegoating of Muslims.”

Among the 15 former Fellows from India playing significant roles in the fight for a free press are freelancers Samarth Bansal, a master of deciphering important data, and Danish Raza, who focuses on human rights.

In Myanmar, where the military coup has stifled recent democratic advances, Saw Yan Naing became a BBC correspondent in Yangon after his fellowship and now trains young reporters there.

Former Fellows are working for global outlets Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and BBC, which help keep the world’s attention on home countries facing significant declines in freedom this year — China, Cambodia and Pakistan.

These are a few of many examples that demonstrate how our fellowship — with 330 program graduates since 1984 — continues to advance our mission to lift up journalism around the world.

18 Feb

Raza spotlights human trafficking tragedies in South Asia for VICE

Her baby cradled in her arms, Muskan recalls the winter night when she was duped into traveling more than 2,000 miles to be married to a man 30 years older than her.

So begins a VICE World News investigative report on desperate Rohingya women sold to men in Kashmir as brides. South Asia editor Danish Raza managed the project for VICE.

Raza worked at the Minneapolis Star Tribune during his Alfred Friendly fellowship in 2019, and he started contributing to VICE World News soon after his return to India.

Back in August, Raza was promoted to South Asia Editor for VICE World News and now leads a team of reporters and freelancers in the region while also reporting his own stories. 

Raza reported in December about child kidnapping in Afghanistan, and about Rohingya refugees who were moved from Bangladesh to a remote island against their will.

One of the region’s freelancers is Pari Saikia, who focuses on human rights. During a human trafficking journalism fellowship funded by Impulse NGO Network, Rohingya women told Saikia their harrowing stories of being sold to men in Kashmir.  After her reporting trips, Saika looked for a platform to host the article and pitched the story to Raza.

To get it published, Raza said, “took me multiple rounds of edits, brainstorming with the design team and thorough fact checking.”

The result of the nine-month project: Rohingya Brides Thought They Were Fleeing Violence. Then They Met Their Grooms.

Owi Luinic, courtesy of VICE World News

VICE World News traces the trafficking horrors to the Myanmar military’s brutal crackdowns on Rohingya Muslims. In 2017, the military forced over 740,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee the Buddhist-majority country by crossing the Naf river into Bangladesh. The refugee crisis fueled a market for the trafficking of brides outside the country. 

A social worker told VICE that Kashmiri families pay the equivalent of about $680 to $1,370 for a Rohingya bride, an amount much less than the minimum expenses for a Kashmiri wedding, around $6,831.

“More people find it economical to buy a bride than organize a wedding,” he said.

The VICE World News report had more than 50,000 views in Asia in the first few weeks after publication and robust social media engagement.

Raza was a reporter for the Hindustan Times in New Delhi before his fellowship, funded by the Patrick and Janna Stueve Foundation. His quick promotion to a digital news outlet with worldwide impact is not uncommon. A 2019 classmate from China, Yan Zhang, was recently hired by Radio Free Asia; among the 2015 fellows, Saher Baloch from Pakistan and Saw Yan Naing from Myanmar were hired by BBC World News, joining 2017 fellow Benita Dahal from Nepal, and David Herbling from Kenya was hired by Bloomberg News, joining five other alums working for the global service. Rodney Muhumuza from neighboring Uganda now covers East Africa for The Associated Press, which now has five former fellows on its news staff.

“The fellowship left me much more confident both as a person and a professional,” Raza said. “My experience at the host newsroom helped me understand the contours of writing about people on the margins.”  

Raza interviews a resident of Uttar Pradesh during a reporting assignment before his fellowship

11 Feb

Lebanese Fellow overcomes frustration with digital news startup

Alia Ibrahim walks with Syrian refugees while on assignment in Bekaa Valley for Al-Arabiya television news

Alia Ibrahim, the co-founder and CEO of a groundbreaking digital media company in Lebanon called Daraj, divides her journalism career in two parts: Before her Alfred Friendly fellowship, and after her fellowship.

Ibrahim’s present-day success was affirmed by the judges of WAN-IFRA’s World News Organization awards. They gave first place in the Best Digital News Startup category in the Middle East in each of the past two years.

At the center of Ibrahim’s career arc is an Alfred Friendly fellowship classmate from 2002 — Marina Walker Guevara, executive editor of the Pulitzer Center. They came together again when Ibrahim was developing the investigative journalism idea that became Daraj and Walker was directing the Paradise Papers project for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

We asked Ibrahim to tell the story in her own words. Here’s what she wrote:

“When I think about the major turning points that have marked my 20 years in journalism, I would first think about the shifts I made from print, to TV and most recently to digital, the move I made from being a senior correspondent at a leading TV station to co-founding and managing an independent media, and my residence at the Washington Post in 2002, thanks to the AFPP.

To put it simply, to me there has always been a before and after the fellowship. The exceptional part, however, is that almost two decades later, I continue to gain from.

As the leader of an emerging media that prides itself on the quality of its journalism produced by a network of some of the best journalists from across the region, I am fully convinced that our future as a media and the future of the countries we live in depends on how well we train our young reporters. When it comes to that, I always find myself drawing lessons from my time with AFPP.

Like many other fellows before me, I have sustained beautiful relationships that have added richness both to my life and to my career.

In 2016, when along with some colleagues I decided to launch Daraj, it was largely out of frustrations. By then, the Arab Spring had turned ugly and working within our media organizations became increasingly difficult. The publication of the Panama Papers, the first collaboration of it’s kind between investigative journalists from across the globe, without us being part of it made us feel how far behind we were. I decided to call an old and dear friend.

Marina Walker, the then deputy director of ICIJ, was a roommate during the time we spent in Washington D.C. I told her I was thinking about starting an initiative with other independent journalists, asked her about her opinion and more importantly whether ICIJ would be willing to work with us. Her answers gave me and my team the encouragement we needed to move forward.

A little over a year later Daraj was born and five days after its launch we were the Arabic Partner on the Paradise Papers.

It’s been a long time since my time at the fellowship, and it’s a completely different world we now live in, but what I believed in then, what I continue to believe in more than anything else is the role of journalism anywhere, anytime.”

Along with her job at Daraj, Ibrahim directs the investigative Current Affairs program at Al-Arabiya, is a special correspondent for The Washington Post and teaches at The Lebanese American University.

After the successful collaboration of the 2002 Friendly Fellows, here’s what a columnist for The Nation wrote:

“The international collaboration behind the Paradise Papers project has helped spread investigative journalism to such previously inhospitable regions such as the Middle East…A new independent, pan-Arab news site named Daraj launched in November with explosive revelations from the Paradise Papers.”

The Paradise Papers, a global investigation into the offshore activities of some of the world’s most powerful people and companies, won the George Polk Award for Financial Reporting. The Paradise Papers investigation expanded on the revelations from the leak of offshore documents that spawned the 2016 Panama Papers investigation by ICIJ and its media partners, which also won the Polk Award and later won the Pulitzer Prize.

Alia Ibrahim reported live from a Syrian rebel group’s position in northern Syria for Al Arabiya News in 2012

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