Working as a journalist has always had its hazards. Follow the story and you may find yourself in some uncomfortable places, overrun with disagreeable people, threatening dreadful fates, like being incarcerated simply for trying to do your job.
Still, many of us seem to think journalism, particularly if you can appear on television or command space in the national print media, infinitely preferable to having to lecture students, many no longer from the intellectually-bright, native English speaking cohorts of yesteryear, and with tenure uncertain and university salaries ever more closely under scrutiny by the vice-chancellor’s budgetary controller.
No wonder the media beckons, luring academics from their sandstone or red brick habitats.
There are some journalists who actually practice the craft and one of those was Russian Anna Politkovskaya who reported for Novaya Gazeta, the paper co-founded by Mikhail Gorbachev, from the proceeds of his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize.
‘Was’ because in October 2006, Politkovskaya was murdered outside her Moscow apartment.
Found on her computer was the title of an article she had been working on, ‘So What Am I Guilty Of?” a raging polemic against the state of Russian journalism, in which she decried journalists who had reduced themselves to the status of koverny, old-fashioned circus clowns, whose job was to entertain, make people smile.
Politkovskaya had never joined the ranks of the koverny, the journalist-clowns, and as a consequence suffered isolation and rejection in Putin’s Russia, taken off lists for invitations and professional contact meetings which, under normal conditions, she would have received as a matter of course and which would have helped her career.
“I have never sought my present pariah status… it makes me feel like a beached dolphin. What am I guilty of, I have merely reported, nothing but the truth,” she wrote sadly.
Four Gazeta journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya, have been murdered so far, she for, it is believed, for her reporting on Russian atrocities in the Caucasus and the two Chechnya wars of secession. Finally, she became too great a nuisance to be tolerated, too probing of sensitive subjects to be allowed to continue her reporting.
Politkovskaya is one of the honourable number of women reporters, Clare Hollingworth, who first broke the news of the Second World War, and our own Kate McClymont, among them, who aimed to expose the truth, women brave enough ‘ go where the silence [is] and say something’ as the Columbia Journalism review quoted, for Politkovskaya’s book.
Anna Politkovskaya’s articles have been collected into Nothing But The Truth: Selected Dispatches published by Harvill Secker. It’s a great, if at times, stomach-churning, read by a journalist who told it like it was and paid the price.
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