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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!


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Applications closed for 2019 Kiplinger Fellowship

The application process for the 2019 Kiplinger Fellowship in Digital Media has ended.

Thanks to the many professional journalists worldwide who applied for next April’s fellowship at Ohio University.

Notifications will be sent to the chosen fellows by mid-December. If you have not received a confirmation email from Kiplinger by that time, we regret to tell you that you’ve not been selected. Because of the large number of applications each year, we do not send individual notices.


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We are an enemy on behalf of the American people

This editorial is posted today in unity with more than 350 U.S. publications and organizations challenging President Donald Trump’s assertion that the media is the “enemy of the people.”


 By now President’s Trump’s assailing of the U.S. media as “fake news” and “the enemy of the people” is as much a part of his early presidential legacy as his frequent braggadocios and often insulting tweet storms. No less than 400 times has Trump hung the “fake news” tag on the press since he initiated the phrase more than a year ago, according to a CNN analysis in early August.

The persistent attacks on the media and the baiting of his base to turn against the press at his political rallies are all too commonplace. In fact, it is an effective strategy to humiliate, debase and seize power from the Fourth Estate for doing its job. Calling them the enemy serves to distance the public from the media while his supporters can ironically embrace a president with a propensity for presenting unverifiable information almost daily.

So, are we, the press, the enemy of the people?

Of course not.

But, let’s also be clear, we are indeed an enemy.

We are the enemy of the crooked politicians who conduct insider trading and spend campaign finances on themselves and their families. We are the enemy of the corrupt who take money offshore and evade the American tax system and the enemy of people who line their pockets at the public till or take bribes from lobbyists and special interests to serve themselves and their own desires over those of the people.

We are the enemy of the powerful who choose to extend that power over others like a cloak of despair. We see enemies in high places when people are starving and destitute while the powerful live in laps of luxury. The media makes enemies of those who attempt to control all levels of government. We abhor dictators, fascists, oligarchs, tyrants, oppressors, authoritarians, despots and totalitarians.

We are the enemy of the liars who spin stories, deflect from answering questions and create “alternative facts.” We take on those who trade in real fabricated news and conspiracy theories that are built on few, if any, shreds of truth. We challenge those in our own profession when their stories appear more like political propaganda than a semblance of fairness and truthfulness.

We are the enemy of those who want to undermine the First Amendment, who hope to gag the press and limit our scope and abilities to report to the American people. We are the enemy of lawmakers from the smallest to the mightiest who want to use laws, rules, regulations, even policing power to control the flow of information to the people and plunge government business deeper into secrecy.

You see, we are capable of being an enemy. Our history shows we are a strong, united, committed group loyal to our mission of free, factual and fair information, and because of that, we create enemies over time.

But, the American people is not one of those.

We are not the enemy of the American people. We are an enemy on behalf of the American people.

And, the sooner this president learns that the sooner this nation will return to a symbol of democracy.



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Page: Kiplinger is legacy of journalism integrity

Editor’s Note: Chicago Tribune Pulitzer columnist Clarence Page will receive the Kiplinger Distinguished Contributions to Journalism Award from the National Press Foundation on Feb. 15 in Washington, D.C.  The following commentary appeared Feb. 6, in The Hill.)


You know you’re getting old when you’re watching a “historical” movie and suddenly realize, “Hey, that’s my life!” That thought crossed my mind while watching “The Post,” the Oscar-nominated retelling of the Washington Post’s Vietnam-era reporting of the Pentagon Papers.

My eyes constantly wandered to artifacts of that era before emails, Google, smartphones and laptops, to gaze nostalgically at the typewriters, teletypes, “copy boys,” typesetters and armies of trucks rolling out at dawn to drop off bundles of papers at newsstands. Ah, memories.

But news never sleeps. Although the principles and processes of reporting and storytelling have not changed since my days in journalism school, the tools and techniques of newsgathering and distribution constantly change in this digital age.

Those thoughts come to mind as I consider how deeply honored I am to receive the National Press Foundation’s 2017 W. M. Kiplinger Award for Distinguished Contributions to Journalism. As an editor on my high school’s biweekly newspaper in the 1960s, I admired the legacy of Willard Monroe Kiplinger, another Ohioan who graduated as a journalism student from Ohio State University in 1912.

During more than 50 years of reporting writing, editing and publishing before his death in 1967, Kiplinger built commercial success on a reputation for promoting high standards of journalistic integrity, performance, independence and service to readers. Beginning with the Kiplinger Letter in 1923, Kiplinger Washington Editors now publishes five newsletters, Kiplinger Magazine, books on economics, and an online news delivery service. 

Back in my high school days, I would not have guessed that a half-century later I would be receiving an award in Kiplinger’s s name — or that my alma mater, Ohio University, would collaborate with the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.

But as pleasing as I might find nostalgia for the past, the Kiplinger program wisely looks to the future. Funded by the Kiplinger Foundation and family, it aims to help mid-career journalists update their knowledge and skills in our constantly changing industry.

In April, the 2018 class of Kiplinger fellows, made up of 16 journalists from around the world, will spend a week on the Ohio campus, receiving cutting-edge training on digital tools and tactics from leading industry experts. Topics include social media for reporting, branding and audience engagement, spreadsheets and data visualization, smartphone videography, and media ethics.

“After my Kiplinger fellowship, I returned to my newsroom energized in a way I haven’t been in years,” recalled former Fellow Kristen Graham of the Philadelphia Inquirer. She said she was equipped with “new skills that will help me deepen my reporting and reach more readers. What a terrific experience!”

I wish her and the rest of her rising generation of journalists well. Who knows? Someday, I am sure, someone will be making movies about them, too.






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Class of 2018 Kiplinger Fellows announced

Seventeen journalists from around the globe will gather in central Ohio this April to make up the 2018 Class of the Kiplinger Fellowship.

The editors, reporters and producers represent some of the most distinguished media outlets in the world and were chosen from a field of more than 500 global applicants.

“Another year and another outstanding class for the Kiplinger Fellowship. We are delighted to have such a good cross-section of experience, diversity and media platforms in this year’s class,” Kiplinger Director Kevin Z. Smith said. “In a highly competitive program, we see excellent representation from all over the globe.”

Kiplinger Director Kevin Smith looks at the work of Fellow Patricia Montemurri as she composes her bubble image.

The Kiplinger Fellows will be joined by 16 Chinese business journalists connected with the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University to expand the fellowship to its largest class and give it a truly international flavor.

The Fellows will divide their time between Columbus and Athens, Ohio where they will be immersed in digital and social media training.

“The faculty and students of E.W. Scripps School of Journalism eagerly anticipate the 2018 Kiplinger Program, the first to take place on our campus at Ohio University,” Journalism Director Robert Stewart said. “We expect to benefit as much as contribute to the amazing training provided through the program.”

The 2018 U.S. Kiplinger Fellows are:

Louis Aguilar, Detroit News

Vince Beiser, Los Angeles freelancer

Raquel Godos, Agencia EFE

Stephanie Griffith, Agence France-Presse

Matthew Hall, San Diego Union-Tribune

Kate Howard, Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting

Marisa Kwiatkowski, Indianapolis Star

Kira Lerner, ThinkProgress

Delano Massey, The Associated Press

Taylor Mirfendereski, KING 5 TV Seattle

Corinne Segal, PBS Newshour, Weekend

Stephanie Valentic, Penton Informa


International fellows include:

Elizabeth Davies, BBC, London

Arun Karki, Center for Data Journalism Nepal

Narin Sun, Voice of America, Cambodia

Angela Ukomadu, Reuters, Nigeria

Ekaterina Venkina, Deutsche Welle, Berlin

The Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism was founded in 1973 from a generous gift by the Kiplinger Foundation in honor of Willard Kiplinger, an Ohio State University 1912 journalism graduate and editor of The Lantern. For 45 years the Kiplinger Program’s mission has been to train mid-career journalists. Each year Kiplinger, through a series of workshops and conferences, educates nearly 1,000 journalists worldwide.


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