Blog Posts

  • Covering the World in the Trump Era

    For American foreign correspondents, it’s become a familiar refrain: It’s difficult to get stories placed in the Trump era. Right now, Washington, DC, might just be the most exciting correspondent’s post in the world. It used to be that American readers who wanted colorful tales of deep-seated ideological clashes, winner-takes- all politics, and large-scale ineptness would be forced to turn to the international pages. But now that American democracy is at a major inflection point (or, less optimistically, has just passed a major inflection point), all the drama that a reader would once have had to find in chaotic democracies like Nigeria, Indonesia, or Israel can now be found right at home. And when there is chaos in the United States – the world’s largest economy and primary backer of the global liberal order – it matters...

  • Rio at a Crossroads

    “You don’t like the beach much, do you?” the doorman mused as I walked into my apartment building in Copacabana, drenched in sweat after a day out in the field. I nodded in solemn admission that the view while zipping around favelas on the back of moto-taxis wasn’t exactly the picturesque coastline most visitors came to see. I’d spent the past week interviewing residents whose lives had been upended to accommodate developments for the Rio Olympics, and the devastating results of the Games six months later. Many of the projects now stood desolate and useless, as is often the case in host cities after the athletes and media have come and gone. However in Rio, where there had been high hopes the international sporting event would provide an opportunity to improve infrastructure and help address its staggering...

  • Notes from the Field: Karachi: Week One

    Saba Imtiaz is a 2017 IRP fellow reporting from Pakistan on women’s rights and the intersection of religion and culture in Islamic societies. Firstly, I lucked out with scheduling my trip! The weather is quite lovely (take note, future IRP fellows to Pakistan!), and it's been great to get to work while not feeling like I'm about to pass out from the heat. I've spent the first week doing initial groundwork for the stories I'm looking to do. I'm here to report on women's rights and LGBTI issues, and I'm focusing on the intersection of religion and culture with women's rights. It's a subject I've been deeply interested in for years, but there was never the time or resources to immerse myself in the reporting. Thanks to IRP, I finally have the chance to...

  • Notes from the Field: Conversations and Context in Far-Flung Communities

    Zack Colman, the deputy energy and environment editor at the Christian Science Monitor, traveled to Marrakech in November 2016 as an IRP fellow reporting from the COP22 climate change conference. Here, he reflects on the value of leaving the conference halls and official statements behind for a few days to talk with farmers who had never heard the term “climate change” but had observed decades of its visible effects on their land.   Normally, I wouldn't categorize sleeping on a thin mattress in sub-freezing temperatures with no heat only to wake up with mysterious bug bites on my pelvis as a positive. But my trip to the High Atlas Mountains as part of the International Reporting Project's fellowship in Morocco was an exception. The accommodations were a necessary condition for getting to the country’s real stories. Simply put, the best...

  • Insights from Marrakech:  A Journalist Reflects on How to Cover Climate Change

    Emma Bryce is a London-based freelancer who traveled to Morocco with the International Reporting Project in 2016. Here, she reflects on the unexpected insights to be gleaned from reporting alongside a group of her peers.   I’m a freelance journalist, and I find that one quirk of this largely solitary profession is that you must rely on an internal yardstick to tell you how you’re doing and how to improve your work. This aspect of my career has been empowering, and has undoubtedly built my confidence. But on the other hand, the solitary nature of the work also breeds uncertainty and insecurity about your abilities, which can make it easier to lose sight of your strengths and weaknesses. Recently, I had a chance to step out of that solitary reality as one of five IRP fellows on a reporting trip to Marrakech....

  • Field Notes from Ecuador

    We didn't have to sacrifice a virgin to the volcano. Though Cotopaxi sent up her plume over Quito -- a jaw-dropping spectacle that made me ponder unseen geologic forces, Continental Drift, magma, the Ring of Fire -- natural disaster did not intervene this time on my International Reporting Project fellowship. Ecuador's time zone is only two hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time, so while in Quito, in between interviews or at night or early morning, I called home via Google Hangouts, courtesy of the hotel's strong Wi-Fi signal. I caught snatches of the twins' conversation and found myself startled by the complexity of their sentences (albeit spoken in their familiar high pitched voices). Had they grown up, that much, within a couple days? We departed for Lago Agrio a gritty oil boomtown in the northern Ecuador. We stayed at...

  • Ecuador’s Uphill Battle

    So it occurs to me that I both started and will finish my dispatches from Ecuador with a photo from Quito’s Centro Historico. Unlike the first post, this one is looking up rather than down one of the capital’s historic streets. (Two weeks later, I still haven’t adjusted to the altitude, by the way). Okay, maybe I’m pushing a little cheeky symbolism on you with this photo. But after spending a couple weeks here and talking to as many people as I could, it’s clear that Ecuador is facing an uphill battle when it comes to the economy.  Much of it has to do with the country’s dependence on oil. As one source who is a former secretary-general of the country told me, “Ecuador’s salary is oil.” ...

  • Buying Souvenirs With U.S. Dollars

    Finally, some free time to buy some souvenirs to take back home (read: those chocolate bars in the background). You’ll notice I’m paying the supermarket cashier with a five dollar bill. Following the financial crisis in the late 1990s, and hyperinflation of the sucre, Ecuador switched to the US dollar. Most people I’ve met here say “dollarization” has been a good thing. It effectively ended inflation and runs on the banks. Throughout the next decade, thanks to high oil prices and a wave of foreign investment from countries like the US, Ecuador boomed and its middle class rapidly expanded. But today, oil prices are again at historic lows (as they were during the late 1990s crash). Meanwhile, the value of the U.S. dollar is high and imported durable goods are extremely expensive. I’ll...

  • Pruning for Chocolate in the Amazon

    When cacao farmers like Emilio Rivera first heard of a government-backed initiative that would help them prune branches and leaves from their trees, they were skeptical. After all, a lush, cacao tree with more, not fewer, branches meant more profits, they said. That’s been the traditional way of thinking for generations of cacao farmers here in the Ecuadorian Amazon.   But in recent years, as disease has worsened, yields have dropped pretty dramatically, and some, like Rivera, have begun embracing the initiative wholeheartedly. Ecuador is one of the world’s biggest producers of cacao; the coveted, key ingredient in chocolate. Cacao is actually an edible fruit that’s fermented after harvest. Meanwhile, the fruit’s seeds (not edible, at least initially) are roasted and the ingredients are combined and eventually cooked from powder into a cocoa-like substance. ...

  • In an Oil Boomtown

    In the Amazonian boom town of Lago Agrio, Ecuador, there is tremendous anxiety over slumping low oil prices. Alfonzo Ona, an electrician who services wells for the state-owned oil company, says everyday there are rumors of more layoffs. Even though it’s one of the smallest OPEC countries, more than half of Ecuador’s revenue comes from oil. Kirk Siegler is reporting from Ecuador on a fellowship with the International Reporting Project (IRP). This post was also published on NPR's On the Road.

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