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Hiroko Tabuchi
New York Times reporter
New York Times reporter

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Misery In Japan Hits Close To Home For Former Foreign Correspondent -, March 20, 2011

This guest column is by Joseph Coleman, Roy W. Howard Professional-in-Residence at the Indiana University School of Journalism.

(Joe was my mentor at The Associated Press in Tokyo. Reproducing this column here with his permission.)


In January 2001, as a reporter for the Associated Press, I ran off to Gujurat, India, to cover an earthquake that killed 20,000 people. After I was gone, my daughter Ema, then only 5 years old, gazed at the destruction on the TV in our home in Tokyo and squealed, “Daddy’s there!’’

“Do you know what Daddy’s doing there?’’ my wife Kyoko asked.

“Yes,’’ Ema said. “He’s building houses for the poor people!’’

Kyoko shook her head.

“No, dear,’’ she said. “He’s a journalist. He’s not building houses; he’s feeding on their misery.’’

True, that’s a harsh assessment. I could argue that journalists’ work draws attention to disasters such as the horrific one unfolding in Japan this week and inspires many to donate money, and rights some wrongs along the way. News coverage horrifies, but it also teaches us about the world and, one hopes, how to make it better.

But journalists tread complex territory as they flock to a disaster. We say it’s a tragedy, and of course, it is. The death tolls and the poignant photographs of bodies and devastated villages testify to that. And, as the threat of radiation exposure from the Fukushima nuclear plant grimly illustrates, journalists often wade into this territory at personal risk.

Still, I can’t ignore the other ways we reporters describe these events among ourselves. We say it’s a great story, a fantastic story, the biggest story in the world right now. Inside our reporter tribe, we will praise the quotes, the description, the storytelling, the photograph that speaks volumes. We duly note the “impact’’ of our work, the investigations into nuclear plant design, the fortification of defenses against tsunamis.

Self-interest plays a less clearly stated role. Media careers will rise and fall based on performance in a disaster zone.

Pulitzers are won, promotions are clinched. At the very least, friendships between us are solidified. Years later, we’ll begin stories with, “When Tommy and I were in this village outside Fukushima ...’’

Only I’m not in Fukushima. After 15 years as a foreign correspondent, I’m in Bloomington as a visiting journalism professor, thousands of miles away from Japan, a country I call my second home. I scour the newspapers and the Internet and the TV for images and ever more information about the tragedy all day. But I never seem to get enough.

Journalists are always chasing The Big Story. My career as a reporter has been almost comic in how many big stories I missed. I never made it to East Timor, Sarajevo, Iraq or Afghanistan. Sometimes, I felt like I’d never made my mark because I’d missed these defining moments. But, truth be told, life as a foreign correspondent has been too rewarding for me to dwell much on that.

But this one hurts. I had nightmares for years in Tokyo that something like this would happen. It’s the story of a lifetime.

But not for me. I have classes this week and papers to mark, and I have to take my wife to an out-of-town medical appointment in a few days. My mother is flying into Indy, and someone has to pick her up. My life is different now. It would take me days to get to Fukushima.

Excuses? Or have I changed? I do another Yahoo update, check the bylines of my friends, fret on Facebook about whether they’ve been exposed to radiation. And I see the faces of Japanese survivors, haggard, traumatized, and in their places I see the faces of so many friends I’ve made over the years, my colleagues, my neighbors, a people I love well. And I want to tell their stories.

But all I can do is watch from far away, and I guess, in the words of my wife, feed on their misery. Their misery, and a little of my own.

Copyright: 2011

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Story I wrote last month just ran today..

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Perhaps, but Jobs also understood people's emotional connection with technology. As for Jobs on social justice/awareness: we knew something was lacking there: Hardly a big philanthropist, for example. And no question is as stuck in the past and/or Jobs idolatry as: What would Steve Jobs think/do? A man who inspired many died young from cancer, and people are mourning. That's not hagiography.

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Moving 2006 NYT interview with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, first female president in modern Africa & Nobel Peace Prize recipient

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Sirleaf, Gbowee, Karman win Nobel Peace Prize for their work on peace/democracy/gender equality in the developing world

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Stephen Fry, as eloquent as ever. On Steve Jobs.
The wonder of Jobs was such that even the seemingly quintessentially analogue Stephen Fry was an Apple fanboy

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From my favorite news source.
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