Reporters on the Job
• Journalist or aid worker? When reporters get together, they like to tell war stories - like the time they got shot at or had to run to catch the last helicopter out of a war zone. But in a series of conversations with colleagues over the past few weeks, staff writer Abraham McLaughlin picked up a different theme: quiet, tentative admissions of helping people in need in Africa.
"It was frankly much more interesting than the war stories," Abe says. "To some readers it might seem surprising that reporters wouldn't automatically help. But so ingrained is the journalistic tenet of noninvolvement - you're an observer of, not a participant in, the story - that many reporters have a hard time violating it."
As the Monitor's Africa correspondent for the past two-and-a-half years, Abe has wrestled with this issue, too. He has hesitated to cross the line from reporter to relief worker, but for reasons other than those based on journalistic ethics. "One thing that keeps me from giving often is that many people in Africa are used to meeting Westerners, particularly white ones, who are there to dole out things - seeds, food, tools, etc.," he says.
"It gets so that when a reporter walks into a village, people get excited, in part, because they're expecting a gift. I don't want to encourage dependency on Westerners. Because despite the dire conditions, many people here are totally capable of lifting themselves up."
Yet, Abe has helped. "I've given rides to HIV-positive patients trying to get to clinics and I've paid $10 for lunch for a group of women in Malawi who were helping administer a project that grew out of a Monitor story.
"Meanwhile, doing this story helped me realize a key watchword: transparency," he says.
David Clark Scott