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Empowered Myanmar Women’s Struggles, Contributions Come to Life in New Book

Kiplinger Fellow Jennifer Rigby (Class 2015) returned this year from a nearly three-year stay in Myanmar where she chronicled life in the Asian nation, particularly focusing on the empowering women who gained prominence after years of oppression, the “other ladies” of the oftern chaotic nation.

Here is a recent Q&A with Jennifer who is back in her native England with husband and child.

 

Q1. Give us some background how you found yourself in Myanmar and for how long. And, when did the idea of the book come to you?

 

I moved to Myanmar with my now husband, who is also a journalist, in 2015. It was a compromise: we both wanted to live and work abroad, but while I suggested somewhere pleasant, like Denmark, he suggested Syria. Myanmar was a mix of the two: reasonably safe, for foreigners at least, and a fascinating place to live with some heartbreaking, challenging and important stories to tell, too.

 

We also moved there at a time of great hope. After decades of oppression at the hands of a military junta, the first free and fair elections were taking place (in November 2015), and the human rights icon Aung San Suu Kyi was set to win. She did win, but it hasn’t been quite so hopeful since. Her government has overseen what has been widely called a genocide of the Rohingya people, and as I write, two Burmese journalists working for Reuters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, have been sentenced to seven years in prison just for doing their jobs. It’s not the democratic future she was expected to herald.

My book was originally inspired by Suu Kyi – affectionately known simply as “The Lady” in Myanmar – and the hope she inspired in the Burmese people and around the world. But a lot had already been written about her, and I didn’t want to add more to that. Then, over the next 18 months or so living in Myanmar, I found many more people and stories in the country that embodied hope almost as completely as she did.

 

So I decided to write about them instead – the ‘other ladies’ of Myanmar of the title. And it’s a good thing I did, because with every day that has passed and every atrocity that has taken place on Suu Kyi’s watch, these women have become more than an addition to her. Rather than her backing singers, as they perhaps were in my original idea of the book, they have now become the headline act; they are carrying the whole tune, and with it, hope for Myanmar’s future.

 

Q2. How did the book materialize?

 

I had the idea for the book, but for a freelance journalist to take time out from making money with stories is a precarious business. So I applied for and got a grant from the International Women’s Media Foundation, which enabled me to focus on all of the women’s stories in depth – traveling to meet them, shadowing them, spending days with them. That was brilliant, and essential to give me time to do the book properly. At the same time, I pitched it to publishers, and the Institute of South-east Asian Studies took it on.

 

Q3. Was there any time you were concerned about portraying these women given they were rebellious of sorts and you were giving them attention?

 

The women were all totally aware of what was going on when we were speaking, and the fact that the interviews would end up in a published book. For some of them, their rebellions are not contentious – the refugee sexual heath nurse, for example, or the acid attack survivor – while they are bravely fighting for change, they aren’t fighting for the kind of change that will wind up an increasingly authoritarian government.

 

That’s not the case for some of the more overtly political campaigners, such as the Rohingya human rights activist, Wai Wai Nu. She is perhaps in a more precarious position, but it’s a place she has incredibly courageously chosen to put herself many times since she got out of prison. As an activist, she uses the local and international press to try to raise awareness for various causes, and so I think – I hope – my book can be part of that for her. But I do think she and a few of the other women had to be careful in what they said at certain points.

 

Q4. Myanmar is a complex country that seems perpetually mired in conflicts of politics, war and religion. How much of the turmoil factored into your decision to approach a book from these unique feminist views?

 

Myanmar is spectacularly complex, and I don’t claim to understand it. However, what I did notice as I lived there, learned more and read more books about it, was that any attempts to understand it or explain it came from the male viewpoint, the male voice.

 

Apart from Aung San Suu Kyi, I just felt that the perspectives of women in Myanmar were completely unheard in the wider world. And at a moment when it seemed the country was about to undergo a historic change, it seemed to me that they were going to play more of a part in its future, and in making it a feminist future. So I wanted to hear from them, and I wanted the international community to hear more from them.

 

Q5. Were there some figures or topics that were just too sensitive to approach in a book? Did you ever think “officials” might be staring over your shoulder as you interviewed them? Anyone who wanted to talk with but couldn’t?

 

I didn’t really feel that there was anything too sensitive for me to approach, but that’s probably because as an international journalist, I was able to leave Myanmar whenever I wanted. Although I did write the book outside of the country, and I haven’t been granted a visa to return since.

 

Until recently, I would have said writing it in Myanmar would have been fine anyway, because it really seemed like press freedom was on the up since the dark days of the junta – but the recent sentencing of the two Reuters journalists has called that pretty seriously into question.

 

Otherwise, I spoke to everyone I wanted and didn’t feel anything was out of bounds – apart from Aung San Suu Kyi herself of course, who I would have loved to speak to but who doesn’t really grant interviews with the international (or indeed local) press that much anymore. Another great sign for a democratic leader…

 

Q6.  What’s the one takeaway you hope for someone reading this book?

 

I hope people reading the book see beyond Aung San Suu Kyi into the nuanced, wonderful, sad, frustrating, inspiring and fascinating country of Myanmar, and realize that there are women there –  as there are anywhere in the world – fighting the good fight to make sure our world is an equal one.

 

Q7 What the reaction to the book been like, so far?

 

It’s been positive, which is great. I hope to do more promotion in the next few months as I finish a few other bits of work, but I’ve had some good criticism and some good reception from a few editors for reviews and articles. And for now my husband is keeping track of the Amazon sales (it nearly topped the gay and lesbian bestsellers for a few days, which is cool but a bit odd, seeing as it doesn’t fit into that genre really in any way).

 

Q8. Plans for more travels or books coming up?

 

I’m about to have my second child (due in January), so I won’t be travelling much or writing after that for a year or so. Otherwise, it might just be because it is occupying my thoughts a lot at the moment, but I’d like to do a series about birth around the world: the different approaches of different cultures to this fundamental life event that everyone goes through.

 

I’d also love to get back to Myanmar when I can, partly to promote the book and also to discuss whether there is any interest in translating it into Burmese. Otherwise I’ll see what lies ahead!

 

Here’s the link to buy the book btw – any promo appreciated! https://www.amazon.co.uk/Other-Ladies-Myanmar-Jennifer-Rigby/dp/9814818259

 

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Kiplinger Fellowship journalists chosen

Fellows for the 2018 Kiplinger Fellowship have been selected. If you have not been notified of your acceptance, unfortunately, you were not selected from the more than 500 applicants worldwide.

The coveted weeklong training in digital and social media will be held April 15-20, 2018 in Athens, Ohio, site of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

Deadline for applying is midnight, EDT, Nov. 19.

Fellows selected for the Fellowship, now in its 45th year, will have much of their expenses paid through a generous endowment of the program from the Willard M. Kiplinger journalism family. U.S. applicants will be asked to pay their transportation in and out of Columbus. International fellows will receive a stipend to help offset some of their airfare to the U.S. Training, lodging and most meals are provided by the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.

Adam Causey and Kofo Belo-Osagie confer with one another over a spreadsheet filter.

All applicants must have at least five years of professional experience and must be proficient in English writing and speaking. All training is done in English. Three work samples are required of all applicants and foreign ones must come with an English translation, if necessary.

This year, as in the past, the programming for the Fellowship will be dictated by the needs of the Fellows. In the past training has focused on social media management, media analytics, mobile applications and videography, cybersecurity, social media ethics and information verification, data journalism and data visualization.

Here is what a few previous fellows have said about their Kiplinger experience:

“The sessions, themselves were extremely productive and helped demystify some of the tools that are so crucial to good journalism, but are often not taught at big institutions … it is truly an incredible program and I’m still pinching myself that I was among those chosen to attend.”

 

Iain Marlow, Correspondent, Bloomberg News, India

“The Kiplinger Fellowship program not only gave me the opportunity to meet talented journalists from all over the world, it also provided me with new tools and ideas so that I can amplify my voice as a journalist on social media.”

 

Silvia Silgado, Univision Network

“I could not feel more inspired and invigorated after the most extraordinary week at Kip Camp. Top-notch training from great speakers, highly organized program and a unique opportunity to meet so many colleagues from all over the world.”

 

Cristina Men, TSF Ràdio Noticias, Portugal

 For further information, contact Kiplinger Program director Kevin Z. Smith at (614)688-7464 or at smith.10002@osu.edu

 

 

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Kip Fellow personally familiar with Greek financial crisis

Reprinted with permission by Nikolia Apostolou.  This story appeared in USAToday, Nov. 15, 2016.

 

ATHENS — When President Obama stood in the shadows of Acropolis and talked about the crippling impact of austerity measures on Greece, I thought, wow, I could have told you that.

After all, my grandparents were collateral damage. And my father is next.
My grandparents’ story starts five decades ago — like thousands of Greeks who left the country in the 1950s and ’60s to find work after the devastating Greek civil war, my grandparents went to Brazil.

In Brazil, they worked hard and eventually opened a coffee shop and a clothing store. They were doing well but didn’t want to stay there forever. After seven years, they moved back to Greece.

In Athens, Grandpa sold children’s toys from a stand in Omonia Square, until he found a job selling watches and clothing in a shop. By the 1970s, my grandparents had earned enough to become their own bosses again, opening a small coffee shop near the Acropolis.

Grandpa paid his pension contributions. According to the law at the time, he couldn’t cover his wife, so Grandma never had her own pension. When they reached their mid-60s and closed their café to retire in the early 1990s, they lived off his benefits.

In the beginning it was OK. They didn’t travel much. Nor did they eat out.

Then, in the mid-1990s, like thousands of Greeks, Grandpa decided to invest some of his savings in the Athens stock market. Politicians were urging Greeks to invest and take advantage of the growing economy. Stockbroker offices opened up in neighborhoods and villages throughout the country.

nikolia

Nikolia Apostolu with a Syrian refugee child. Apostolu has been covering the Greek financial crisis and the Syrian refugee plight for more than two years now.

It was a heady time that turned into a frenzy. People sold their houses to play the stock market. Then in 1999, the bubble burst. Millions of people lost money, and the public pension funds went into the red. Allegations of fraud and insider trading were rampant. But nobody was charged with misdoings.

In 2001 when Greece adopted the euro, we were excited, though we thought the currency exchange wasn’t equal. Why should 1 euro have to be 340 drachmas, while 1 euro was 0.5 German marks? We weren’t economists.

Before the euro, a newspaper would cost 100 drachmas, or 30 euro cents, the U.S. equivalent of 33 cents. After the euro, the paper cost 1 euro, or $1.12. The same happened with potatoes, tomatoes and so on. We didn’t need to be economists to see the consequences of bringing together widely disparate economies adopting a single currency as part of the eurozone.

Grandpa, a proud man, never complained to me. But his habits slowly changed. He started attending anti-government protests. While watching the news, he’d curse the government.

He also stopped buying newspapers. That was something I couldn’t accept. A man who had worked for more than 45 years wasn’t able to afford a newspaper anymore. From then on, I’d always bring him a paper so he could indulge in one of his few pleasures.

In 2004, Grandpa was diagnosed with four brain tumors. A week later, we watched the Athens Olympics together. We wondered how much the spectacle cost taxpayers. Such an extravaganza seemed out of place in a small, troubled country like Greece.

More than $11 billion was spent on stadiums that now sit unused. Other funding went to much-needed infrastructure, however, like the subway and a new Athens airport.

A few months after the impressive opening ceremony, my grandfather passed away in his bed, surrounded by family. Grandma moved to an apartment across the street from my parents. She received 80% of her late husband’s pension and could just make ends meet.

Since the Greek fiscal crisis a few years ago, my grandma had been afraid the government would cut her pension. We dismissed her worries, assuring her that she received one of the lowest pensions in the country. Nobody would dare touch it, we said.

But, year after year, everything got more expensive, eating away at Grandma’s purchasing power. Taxes increased. New taxes hit heating oil, cigarettes — Grandma still smoked — telephone bills and so on. In July, Greek lawmakers cut my grandma’s benefits. Hospitalizations decimated her savings.

Thankfully, she didn’t really know about her financial situation. My mother used to go to the ATM for her and, with my aunt, covered much of her expenses before she died this fall.

I’m happy my grandfather isn’t around to see the current state of things. He would have been humiliated and depressed at not being able to survive financially after working hard for 45 years.

But my father isn’t likely to be spared that feeling. He just retired, and more pension cuts are looming.

Correspondent Apostolou is based in Athens

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Kiplinger announces 2017 Fellows

Twenty-one veteran journalists from newsrooms around the globe will make up the 2017 class of Kiplinger Fellows at Ohio State University.

The 2017 class includes national, large-market television and radio anchors and producers, leadership at three wire services, reporters from major daily newspapers as well as general assignment reporters from thriving community publications.

Six fellows will visit from outside the United States, hailing from Canada, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Spain, Australia and Afghanistan.

Nearly 500 journalists applied for the fellowship program, which will take place April 23 – 28 at the Ohio State campus in Columbus and the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University in Athens.

“This year’s pool of applicants continues to signal to the Kiplinger Program that we are a much sought-after fellowship,” deputy director Kevin Z. Smith said. “We continue to be amazed at the caliber of journalists, domestic and foreign, who apply. It’s always a difficult and lengthy process to select the few who come. Each year’s class is unique and well representative of today’s journalism profession.”

Smith said the goal is to return the Kiplinger Fellows to their newsrooms armed with a new set of digital skills and the motivation to train others and improve the level of journalism.

The international 2017 Kiplinger Fellows are:

  • Anuj Chopra, Agence France-Presse, Kabul, Afghanistan
  • Eduardo Fernandez Diaz, El Mundo TV, Madrid, Spain
  • Stephanie Gomez, El Vocero, Puerto Rico
  • Nelissa Hernandez, Publicitas Content, Singapore
  • Declan Hill, The Star, Toronto, Canada
  • Lauren Novak, News Corp, Adelaide, Australia

 

The U.S. 2017 Kiplinger Fellows are:

  • Michelle Theriault Boots, Alaska Dispatch News, Anchorage
  • Deblina Chakraborty, Scripps-KMGH, Denver
  • Joe Danborn, The Associated Press, Denver
  • Monica Davey, The New York Times, Chicago
  • Kate Giammarise, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • Dalia Hatuqa, freelancer, Chevy Chase, Maryland
  • Andy Hurst, KUOW Public Radio, Seattle
  • Kyle Iboshi, KGW, Portland, Oregon
  • Jess Mador, NPR-WYSO, Yellow Springs, Ohio
  • Samantha Melamed, Philadelphia Inquirer
  • JP Olsen, HBO, New York City
  • Lee Powell, Washington Post, DC
  • Claudio Remeseira, Dow Jones, New York City
  • Fernanda Santos, The New York Times, Phoenix
  • Larry Seward, KHOU, Houston

 

The Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism is in its 44th year at Ohio State. It has evolved since its founding, transitioning from a nine-month master’s program to a digital media fellowships in 2011. In addition to the weeklong fellowship, the program offers workshops and training across the globe. In 2016, the Kiplinger Program training reached nearly 1,800 journalists. Full information about the Kiplinger Program is available at www.kiplingerprogram.org.

The Kiplinger Program was endowed at Ohio State in 1973 by Austin Kiplinger in honor of his father, W.M. Kiplinger, one of the university’s first journalism graduates in 1912. W.M. Kiplinger pioneered a new kind of journalism when he became publisher of The Kiplinger Letter and later Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. He has been described by his son as “a dedicated journalist, a muckraker and an inspiration to young journalists… a very original thinker.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Former Kiplinger Fellow Lynn Walsh takes SPJ reins, talks journalism’s challenges

Kiplinger Fellowship alumna Lynn Walsh will assume the leadership role of the nation’s largest journalism organization when she is sworn in as president of the Society of Professional Journalists on Sept. 20.

A 2014 Fellow, she is an executive producer for the investigative unit at KNSD NBC 7 in San Diego. Walsh has won state and local awards as well as multiple Emmys. She is also the producer of the Lynn Walsh Daily, an aggregated news website.

Kiplinger alumna and SPJ incoming president Lynn Walsh The Ohio State University Photo by Kevin Fitzsimons

In her leadership role with SPJ, Walsh will be asked to set the tone for an organization with 8,000 professional and student members during a time of business uncertainty for the news media.

We asked her to give us some insight into how she envisions her year in office.

What do you believe to be the greatest challenges facing journalism today and what, in your future capacity, can you do to help address those?

The constantly changing landscape of the flow of information. I think social media and the web have made our jobs easier and more exciting but also harder and more confusing. News is not just produced in newsrooms any longer, it’s happening instantaneously all around us. I think this is a great for the public, but it means we need to adapt the way we produce news.

As a leader in SPJ, I think this expands our role and responsibility to think of programs and ways to reach people that may not consider themselves journalists. It means educating the public about journalistic ethics, the impact publishing content online can have, and the resources and information available to them through public information laws.

You’re in a traditional media – television. How significantly has it changed to meet modern consumer demands?

The format of TV news has not changed much but HOW it is viewed and the priorities of journalists inside TV newsrooms has changed and continues to change. The Investigative unit I oversee at NBC in San Diego will publish and produce online-only investigative stories. That was not happening at the station before, but now it happens often. We also will publish our investigative video stories online before they air. I see TV stations trying all sorts of new storytelling techniques, especially with social media. Now, is it happening as quickly as some, including myself, would like it, not all the time. You are going to continue to see TV news change to meet the online demands of the public, and I think you will see it happen even more quickly in the next couple of years than it did during the last five.

If professional journalists are still needed 10 years from now, what do you see as their roles?

I do not think the question is “if” — they will be. Look, I love that any individual with access to the internet can have just as much influence with a tweet or YouTube video as an article in the New York Times. This is good for journalism, and it is good for democracy and the world. BUT, there will still be a place for professional and ethical journalism. Think about breaking news situations. There is so much information coming in so quickly on the internet during a big breaking news event, how does a member of the public sort through that? They turn to those journalists and professionals they trust. That has been the role of a journalist and always will be. To ethically, fairly and accurately report information to the public. As journalists, we have to remember this and be careful not to get pulled in to being first and inaccurate.

Now that you’ve reached a position of leadership, what’s the best advice you can share with younger journalists coming up should they want to follow your lead and become journalism leaders?

Pursue what you love, and don’t be afraid to take risks. Yes, there are processes in place, and you should be respectful of those, but it doesn’t mean you are stuck to them. Think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas with people who may be in positions above yours. If you have a good idea, want to help and are skilled at what you do, people are normally more than willing to listen and let you lead the way.

Did the Kiplinger Fellowship influence you in any way?

The Kiplinger Fellowship, and others like it, are a great way to further your career. It’s always important to continue to learn the newest tools and tricks, and when you are doing that throughout your career with other journalists, it’s a win-win. It is a great networking opportunity and it’s fun.

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