The Digital Journalist

I got home, loaded up my fire gear and hit the road.
by Sandy Huffaker
As my own lungs caught fire I helped rush the most stricken of the three firefighters out the back gate.
by Sean Masterson
All I heard was, "There was a bomb--no details yet…" As she briefed me with what she knew I was pulling on my pants, grabbing cameras and heading out the door and down the elevator.
by Paul Taggart
The Burmese military, accompanied by plain-clothed thugs, stood at the opposite end of the street, machine guns and riot shields at the ready.
by Will Baxter


In November four dispatches look at current events: Sandy Huffaker and Sean Masterson take us into the flames and acrid smoke of the California wildfires; Paul Taggart was on the scene before and after the suicide explosion that rocked Karachi, Pakistan, when Benazir Bhutto returned from exile. In addition, he presents a down-to-earth look at the life of a photojournalist. And, Will Baxter ducked bullets and sheltered with residents while covering the recent aborted freedom marches of Buddhist monks in Burma (Myanmar).

The California wildfires are still burning as of this writing, Oct. 28. Recent rain, cooler weather and 12,000 firemen and military personnel have lessened the overall number of individual fires. On Oct. 27 Reuters reported that nearly 810 square miles burned, 12 people had been found dead, seven counties were declared disaster areas, 2,000 homes and 180 commercial buildings were burnt.

The largest, most destructive fire in California's history has loomed large in American media. The disaster has again raised questions about people who choose to live and rebuild in locations where disasters like forest fires, hurricanes and mudslides happen regularly. The population in the States has moved towards the beaches and near old-growth forests in the recent decades with some disastrous results. After a natural or not-so-natural (two of the fires have been confirmed as started by arsonists) calamity, taxpayers everywhere pay for the recovery. On the other hand, it would be impossible for the federal government to propose that no one could live in California, Florida or New Orleans!

Sandy Huffaker knew on Sunday, Oct. 21, the day the wildfires started, that conditions were right for fires: Santa Ana winds were picking up over a hot, bone-dry landscape. Unfortunately, he was right. The New York Times appreciated his work and the image of the helicopter in smoke was on the front page.

Photographer Sean Masterson also went out to cover the conflagration in neighborhoods like his own. His image of the garage on fire tells the story: the house looks fairly intact, the normalcy of garbage containers outside waiting for the city to pick up the trash, all this against blue skies with palms whipped by wind. The viewer knows this is a false sense of security—all will be destroyed in minutes.

In Pakistan there was anticipation, jubilation and dread in some quarters that Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, was returning. When she was sworn into office in Dec. 1988, Bhutto was the first woman to be head of an Islamic state. This alone declared her secular views without her saying a thing. It was enough to rile extremist Islamic groups. Before her return the Taliban declared they would greet her with suicide bombers.

Her large armored vehicle started out late at the airport as Taggart reports. The route was to be the 10-mile stretch between the airport and the tomb of Pakistan's founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. From media reports it sounded as if the vehicle was making its way along the streets of Karachi but Taggart writes that after many hours it was still in the precinct of the airport. Two blasts tore into the crowd close to Bhutto literally tearing the unsuspecting people limb from limb. Images of men carrying away heavy, bloody body parts bring the story to us in all its gruesomeness.

In September TDJ published the story by Dai Kurokawa on Burma's largest ethnic rebel group, the Karens, fighting for an autonomous state. In the Editor's Note I noted that there were really two rebellions in Burma [renamed Myanmar by the military junta], one for an autonomous region and the other, more widely known, freedom fight with Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi as its leader

Will Baxter writes that the monks and civilians who marched in Rangoon (Yangon) in mid-September shouted at the military attacking them, "Aung San would never have killed his own people!" They were referring to the general who fought to free Burma from British colonialism in the 1930s and '40s.

Burma had been a colony of the British government since 1885 and was made a province of India. In 1937 it was separated from India. With Burma still a colony of the empire, Aung San became a student leader in the 1930s and later a military leader of the rebellion for independence. He accepted help from the Japanese in 1941 but later joined the British allies during WWII. In January 1947 he signed the Aung San–Attlee [British P.M.] agreement guaranteeing Burma's independence within a year, the goal he had long worked for. Assassinated in July, he did not live to see Burma regain its independence in January 1948. Aung San's daughter, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, led the National League for Democracy to victory in 1990 but the repressive Myanmar junta has not allowed a change in government.

Marianne Fulton
Dispatches Editor

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