Reporters on the Job

It's All About the Research: During the course of reporting today's story on celebrity work in Africa, correspondent Danna Harman found herself at a hotel in Malawi that, she says, was "kind of crummy." She went to see the lodge that Madonna had stayed in and found that it was almost three times more expensive than where she was staying – and was "really nice."

Danna wanted to get a room there, but figured her editors might be annoyed at the added cost (note: It was still highly reasonable). But then she had an idea. "I figured that it was research-related. To support that, I tried to interview waiters and other people so that I could justify the stay," she says. "And it would have paid off big time – if only I were working for The National Enquirer. I learned from the waitstaff that Madonna would only eat macrobiotic food so they had to change the kitchen around, and that they had to drape everything in white, per her preferences. This was superstar behavior, of course, but they just said, 'No problem!' "

Danna says that Malawians are not put off by star-power issues (see story). "I rarely met someone who said it was not a good thing. Some of the more sophisticated locals might argue the finer points, but the man on the street was thrilled. And to be honest, stars could just be going to parties and premières. Working in Africa is often hot and frustrating – so it's not always that easy."

A Different World: It was a treat to visit small seaside villages in north Lebanon for her story on cleaning up an oil spill, says correspondent Carol Huang (see story). "It's easy to get wrapped up here in war and politics and forget that Lebanon is also just a really beautiful Mediterranean country," she says. "This strip of coast in the north is relatively undeveloped and serene, in contrast to some urban areas nearby where the seaside is pretty much all carved out into private clubs, resorts, and restaurants. You also get the sense that there's a beach culture in this area –people standing on the highway waiting for a taxi were wearing board shorts and flip-flops, looking tan and carrying towels."

Another treat for Carol was the drive back to Beirut. "If the timing is right, you'll have the sunset following you the whole way. So on your right you have the sun setting over the Mediterranean Sea, and on your left you have rolling green hills dotted with white buildings reflecting the pinks and oranges of the sunset. The coast curves in and out in a series of bays till finally you see Beirut appear around the bend. I was entertaining a friend from the US that week and regretted having to drag him around while reporting. But we ended up seeing a quiet, beautiful – though still war-stained, literally – part of Lebanon that foreigners don't normally get to see."

– Amelia Newcomb
Deputy World editor

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