Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Anjan Sundaram's "Stringer"

Anjan Sundaram is an award-winning journalist who has reported from Africa and the Middle East for the New York Times and the Associated Press. His writing on Africa has also appeared in Foreign Policy, Fortune, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, the International Herald Tribune, and the Huffington Post. He has been interviewed by the BBC and Radio France Internationale on African current affairs. Sundaram received a Reuters journalism award in 2006 for his reporting on Pygmy tribes in Congo’s rain forest. He currently lives in Kigali, Rwanda, with his wife.

Sundaram applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo, and reported the following:
I had come to Congo from Yale, and been robbed of almost every dollar I owned, when I found a job as a stringer for the Associated Press. This job – in which I sold reports to The AP for 15 cents per word, and received little other support or certainty – did not begin easily. Report after report was rejected; even if about horrendous rape. Somebody had to die, and often violently, to qualify as world news. It seemed that half the country was going unreported.

In all this – and on page 99 of Stringer – I came upon a reporter for TIME magazine called Keith. We met during a conference at Congo’s poshest hotel. Keith was brash, bold, and he changed the way I thought about news. On page 99 Keith tells me that George W. Bush was involved in a logging conglomerate that profited from Congo’s valuable forests, exporting timber hidden in fake petroleum trucks. He told me about the world’s strategic interests in Congo – in uranium mines, for example, that provided the fuel for the World War II nuclear bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One after the other, Keith told me fantastic stories – ‘That’s nothing,’ he would say, ‘Listen to this.’ I had no idea if any of what he said was true. He called his stories ‘crack’: no editor would touch them; no one wanted to know. But Keith expanded my ideas of the possibilities that Congo offered. He gave me the conviction to go out, to seek, and to discover the truth.

Setting out with slivers of fantastic ideas felt, to me, a more natural way of reporting, because the stories I found became part of my own story, and the instinct that led me to each discovery naturally thrust me forward. Hustling, searching, and pressing ahead: this was the life I led as a stringer.
Visit Anjan Sundaram's website.

--Marshal Zeringue