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Pulitzer Center Update April 21, 2009

Journalists Expose International Crisis Conditions


Meredith May wanted to tell the story of girls whose families sold them into slavery in western Nepal, but budget cuts in her California newsroom were keeping her from getting there.

Had it not been for a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the story of the girls in Nepal would have gone untold, May said Monday during a lecture sponsored by the School of Journalism, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, Women's Studies and the Global Media Research Center. The lecture featured May and two other journalists who reported on international crises with funding from the Pulitzer Center.

The Pulitzer Center is a not-for-profit organization that pays journalists to produce independent international stories that have not been covered by other U.S. media organizations.

May's video project told the story of an 83-year-old woman who gave girls' families goats to relieve financial burdens that caused them to sell their daughters into slavery.

Michael Kavanagh, a former National Public Radio correspondent, followed May's video with his report on a woman in Congo who had been deserted by her husband of 33 years after a soldier raped her.

Kavanagh said sexual assault has become a weapon in the country's ongoing internal conflicts and it is common for husbands to leave their wives after they have been raped.

Iraqi journalist Alaa Majeed said her report on the U.S. detention system in her native country was difficult to complete because the American government would not allow her to travel to Iraq. Majeed, who moved to the United States in 2005, said she had to convince government officials the report would not cast a negative image of the American invasion.

Majeed said being a journalist in Iraq is easier now than it was four years ago.

"The reporting is easier now, but the stories went down and sort of died," she said.

Newspapers have resorted to laying off reporters and closing international bureaus as their revenue streams weaken, School of Journalism Director William Freivogel told the crowd of roughly 75 students gathered in the Law School Auditorium.

Though she is still on staff at the San Francisco Chronicle, May said new journalists should not consider any newspaper job a sure thing. She said she is going to graduate school in case the day comes when the Chronicle cannot afford to keep her on staff.

But pursing an alternative career path is not easy for May because she is doing what she loves, she said.

"I have to weigh my happiness with my finances," she said. "If I'm not able to do anything I find meaningful, then I really have to start asking myself some serious questions."

Kavanagh said journalists need to know how to take pictures, shoot video and edit sound on top of being capable writers. He said he left radio because he could not make enough money.

"There's absolutely no way to be an independent radio producer unless you are phenomenally talented," he said.


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