13 June 2009 1 Comment

A living foreign correspondent the most useless thing to media industry — Reviewing a "Novel of Jihad"

The magazine of Harvard’s Nieman Fellowship asked me to write an essay about Jeffrey Fleishman’s “Promised Virgins: A Novel of Jihad”. I wrote about why international correspondents like me and Fleishman, Cairo bureau chief for the LA Times, turn to novels to express the depth of what we learn about a foreign culture. Here’s how the article begins:

Jay Morgan, the central character of Jeffrey Fleishman’s thought provoking “novel of Jihad,” carries an undeveloped roll of film shot by his young photographer wife in the moments before she was killed in Beirut. Morgan lifts her wounded body to safety, but she dies anyway. It’s a fitting image on which to build Morgan’s deep bitterness and disillusion about journalism as he covers the war in Kosovo. In these days of cyberjournalism, idiotic reader “talkbacks” and nonsensical newsroom cutbacks, the only thing apparently more useless to the media industry than an undeveloped film or a dead photographer is a living foreign correspondent.

The story of “Promised Virgins” revolves around Morgan’s trek through the mountains as he interviews Serbs, Albanians and CIA operatives on the hunt for a newly arrived jihadi who has brought Islamic fundamentalism to the otherwise nationalistic Muslims of Kosovo. In truth, the book is about a foreign correspondent’s uncomfortable personal connections with the society he covers and his realization that they’re the only things keeping him from despair at his ever-shabbier trade. Read more…

One Response to “A living foreign correspondent the most useless thing to media industry — Reviewing a "Novel of Jihad"”

  1. Kat 14 November 2009 at 3:52 am #

    Hi again Matt,

    Read something today about a Canadian who took a severance package and left journalism, not because he lost love for it but because he doesn't like what this turning point in the industry is doing in the way of dismantling, prioritizing and why.


    He mentions being frustrated by being an analyst and observer, as you did. It reminded me of the exchange we started here, so I came back.

    I decided against taking assignments in India and China. Journalists and writers being a particular breed, I'm sure you can understand why I'd jump at the chance — what an enriching experience! But logistically my partner would not go with me, and I don't see how I can start a family when we're living and working in different countries. We tried it for a month, and it failed miserably.

    In my heart, I have persistent issues with the harried pace of breaking news and the borderline sensationalist path that even legitimate news agencies are taking to retain and attract readers. I also don't identify with colleagues who write purely for fame and awards.

    I chose journalism (or it chose me) for love of the written word and a belief that I could serve the public good. Perhaps I don't see how those two things can be accomplished with integrity in this current climate of key words, social media, 30-second sound bites, mouthing off, scanning online articles, digital subscriptions and everyone and their brother thinking they're citizen journalists.

    One day I hope to cross paths with you somewhere in this world and have conversation over tea.

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