J Student blogs at NYT

In a fascinating experiment NYT columnist Nicholas D. Kristof has selected a J student Casey Parks to travel with him throughout Africa and write about their experiences on a blog. Unfortunately this great little experiment is behind the Times Select barrier and requires paid registration (you can get a 14 day free trial or its $50 a year for lots of goodies).

This is a great way to use a blog and Parks is writing an interesting reflective narrative as she comes to terms with the desperate poverty of Africa, meeting with leading politicians and trying to break through to street level in spite of language barriers. She makes a good attempt not just to describe what she sees but to relate this to what it means for her as a journalist:

We’ve met a few people in Africa so far who have complained about Africa never receiving any positive press.

“Why do people only write about the bad stuff?” they ask us.

I’ve had the same question for years about Mississippi. In fact, one of the reasons I want to be a national correspondent is to be able cover the South in a more accurate way. Journalists from New York or other northern cities often swoop in, researching but not understanding the state, then file stories that don’t reflect the complexities of Mississippi.

Yes, it’s easy to report that the state is poor or repressive toward women. But where is the good coverage, the life that keeps people living there?

And I think many people in Africa feel the same way. Of course, I think many journalists writing about horrors in Africa are doing so in an attempt to help Africa, but there has to be some balance. As Prime Minister Mangue asked yesterday, “What about Africa’s progress?”

In thinking about Mississippi in the past, I’ve often thought of the William Blake quote, “Pity would be no more if we did not make somebody poor.” What would the other states do without Mississippi to pick on, to make them feel better about their own evolutions? Last night, looking out toward a very illuminated Yaounde, Cameroon, I asked Naka, “What will the world do once Africa really progresses?”

“They’ll work on Antarctica,” he replied.

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