Reporters on the Job

INTERVIEWING ONLINE: Journalists don't normally conduct interviews via e-mail. So much information is communicated visually, that face to face is best. The telephone is next best. But Nicole Itano couldn't do an in-person interview for today's story (page 7). The government of Zimbabwe has become quite hostile to foreign correspondents. Nicole, who is based in South Africa, has been denied a visa to visit Zimbabwe. "No one I know who has applied in the past several months has gotten it," she says.

The government appears concerned about critical coverage. Last month, a government spokesman accused six journalists who worked for local and British newspapers of "colluding with terrorists." Many local journalists have been jailed. One Zimbabwean editor told Nicole by phone: "Getting arrested here has almost become a badge of respectability and integrity." The woman Nicole interviewed for today's story preferred not to speak on the phone. "She didn't want to say something that might get her arrested. By doing the interview online, she felt she could more carefully choose her words."

A REPORTER'S PRAYER: Cameron Barr was cleaning out some old e-mail yesterday before filing today's story (page 1). He came across a feature written two years ago about how most Japanese celebrate Christmas, but many of them have no idea that the occasion has anything to do with Christianity. "I remembered how hard I'd worked to make the piece funny, in a gentle way, and to have it convey the sincerity of Japan' s Christians, who of course understand the connection between Jesus and Christmas. But I can't remember doing a light feature like that since coming to the Middle East. No gentle humor. No pieces written as much to amuse as to inform. The story here is so consistently heavy, heavy, heavy. So here's a reporter's prayer for peace: I hope next year readers will see more joy in the stories from the Middle East."

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