Overseas Press Club

Overseas Press Club Foundation
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Q&A With Jeremy Gantz
Jeremy Gantz has a journalism masters degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He has worked for the Medill News Service, based in Washington D.C., covering the "War and National Security" beat. He has written stories about the national impact of the war, and the impact of the war in Iraq by reporting on Iraqis. He hopes to continue reporting in Asia. OPC Bulletin editor Aimee Rinehart spoke with him in fall 2007 via e-mail about his determination to have a reporting career abroad.

OPC: Tell us where are you now and why you chose that spot.

GANTZ: I live in Phnom Penh and have been working at the Cambodia Daily, an English-language newspaper staffed by both Cambodians and ex pats, as a reporter for the summer. I have the Overseas Press Club Foundation to thank for connecting me to this particular spot, as I was lucky enough to be offered an internship here after receiving one of the foundation’s scholarships this year. I’ve long been a lover and student of South and Southeast Asia, so it has been a natural fit. OPC: How did you become interested in reporting abroad? GANTZ: Without a doubt, my interest in foreign reporting stems directly from the year I spent living in Sri Lanka while on a Fulbright. I studied how the country’s public school system has created ethnic divisions and conflict, and although the topic was academic, my research methods were journalistic: I interviewed scores of teachers, students and government officials in different parts of the island, and gathered documents to create a picture of the present.

I also befriended a few journalists while there, and ended up finding their work more relevant – in late 2004 and 2005, the ceasefire was rapidly collapsing – than my research. It wasn’t long after my return to the states that I decided a career abroad in journalism would be far more satisfying (and more exciting) than any academic career.

OPC: Are overseas positions “talked up” in journalism classes? Do you have friends who also report internationally?

GANTZ: I would say developing a global perspective, rather than an overseas career, is discussed more by professors in my Northwestern University graduate program. The program definitely offers international journalism experience to those who want it (through a popular “Global Journalism” program, which places students into reporting “residencies” around the world), and of course no one at the school speaks against an overseas career. But I’ve encountered very few students who actually plan to pursue overseas reporting as a career, rather than a short-term “experience.” I can count them on one hand. I do have one college friend who has reported from Moscow during the last few years – but he’s heading back to the U.S. next month.

OPC: What did winning the OPC’s scholarship do for your interest in reporting abroad?

GANTZ: More than anything else, it gave me confidence. I knew that I wanted to report abroad, but wasn’t sure I actually could do something so daunting. I spent 10 weeks last fall backpacking through northern India in search of stories, really pushing myself into a journalist’s mindset. Because my scholarship application - based on interviews I conducted in Delhi and Rajasthan - was recognized, I finally believed my desire to report abroad was more than a pipe dream.

OPC: What are the drawbacks to being an expatriate regarding the job of reporting? What are the pluses?

GANTZ: I think there are two main drawbacks, at least here in Cambodia: First, I worry constantly that cultural and language barriers lead to inaccuracies. I don’t speak Khmer, and even when Cambodian colleagues have translated for me I worry that important facts and emotional nuances are lost in translation. But more serious is my occasional feeling that, as an American, I can’t truly understand Cambodia – or any other Asian country. Second, it’s impossible to ignore the disconnect here between the English-language press and the general public. It’s a question of impact: sure, diplomats and NGO employees and highlevel government officials are reading the Cambodia Daily. But what about the vast majority of Cambodians who can’t read English?

But of course the pluses outweigh the drawbacks. It’s a privilege to be deeply exposed to a foreign culture and country, to be able to speak to both ordinary, powerless Cambodians as well as high-level government officials. To see both ends of the power spectrum in Cambodia, which finally seems to be stabilizing after decades of war, is amazing and astonishing. And on a day-to-day basis, it has been great fun to report on stories with the Cambodia Daily’s Khmer staff – they know the country in ways ex pat journalists probably never will.

OPC: What article have you written so far on your travels that you’re the most proud of? Can you tell us a little about how that article came to be?

GANTZ: Probably an article I wrote here earlier this month, which was about the Cambodian government’s plan to triple the size of its navy to provide security for the handful of companies hunting for oil in the Gulf of Thailand.

That story was particularly satisfying because I had been tipped off to the plan by an embassy’s military attaché, but had to pry the details from government officials over a period of weeks. The Cambodian military is notoriously secretive – but once a top official confirmed the plan, everyone else talked. It was also fascinating to find the effects of a U.S. corporation in as odd a place as Cambodia’s tiny navy. Chevron discovered oil in the gulf in 2005, and the Cambodian government has been seeing dollar signs ever since. I think it’s important that Cambodians know what their military is doing – especially if it involves oil, the revenue from which ought to actually reach the people who need it most.

OPC: Where would you like to be five years from now?

GANTZ: Although I’m very fond of Southeast Asia, I’m in love with South Asia. Ideally I’d be based in Delhi but would report throughout the subcontinent on the region’s rapid development. In particular, I’m drawn to India’s transformation into a global power — how its ancient traditions are being altered by new political and economic circumstances. India’s rise ought to matter to Americans; the world’s biggest democracy deserves to be the America’s closest Asian friend.

OPC: What will it take to get you to where you want to be?

GANTZ: Hard work – but just as much luck, I fear. Becoming established as a foreign correspondent is probably more difficult than ever today. It’s not just shrinking foreign news holes at home. I hate to admit it, but I see no compelling reason why western correspondents in Asia might not be mostly “outsourced” to well-educated Englishspeaking people who are actually from the region. It’s already happening. The key to succeeding in an increasingly competitive journalism environment, I think, is constant study and the ability to offer American readers a voice they can recognize as their own. Jeremy Gantz can be reached by e-mail at jeremy_gantz@yahoo.com

 

 
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