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You've probably never heard of Sayed Saleem Shahzad
June 2, 2011 - Stephen Browne
You've probably never heard of Sayed Saleem Shahzad, and in fact neither had I until today when I checked CNN's website.
Sayed Saleem Shahzad was a Pakistani journalist who specialized in interviewing terrorists. Last Sunday he disappeared on his way to work. On Tuesday his body was discovered 155 miles away. He'd been kidnapped, tortured and murdered.
I find myself oddly affected by the news. I didn't know Shahzad, but he was a fellow-journalist. You can't help but feel something when a colleague dies as a direct result of what you do. Of course very few of us do what the Russian organization "The Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations" calls with such charming understatement. But if you're a truck driver, cop, fireman, whatever, you feel the same when you hear the news of the death of a professional colleague in the line of duty.
In 2004 I returned to America to get formal training in journalism and turn pro. During the time I was in grad school I read about the murder of a well-respected investigative journalist Anna Polikovskaya in Russia. I had just struck up an email correspondence with freelance journalist Steven Vincent when I turned on the news one morning to find he had been murdered in Basra, Iraq while investigating police death squads. That was like waking up from a pleasant dream to find a nightmare crouching at the foot of your bed.
Just last January I returned from a freelance contract in Belarus where I contacted an old friend who is a sometime dissident journalist and political activist. It was wrenching to find he'd been compromised by the Belarusian KGB. I believe he's being blackmailed, and I think I know how.
Now why am I bringing this up?
People have asked me if community journalism in rural America isn't boring, after living so long in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
It most emphatically is not - it's endlessly fascinating. And it's my experience, and the experience of colleagues in those "extreme situations" that made me realize how fascinating it is.
In America we govern ourselves on the local level through elected city councils and county commissions. Do you know how rare that is in the world, even today? In my wife's country Poland, they have only recently instituted local elected government. In Russia they have just taken a step backwards and gone back to appointing regional governors.
Russia is also considered the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Here I've occasionally written things that have offended some people, but I'm quite sure nobody ever considered murdering me or threatening my children.
Here we have rancorous public debate on all kinds of issues, and yes it can get pretty mean. But get this, nobody is being murdered for their opinions! You can get called some pretty nasty names for sure. Just remember, it could be worse. And in a great many places it is.
The kind of life we have in this country is historically rare, very precious, and the envy of much of the world. How do we do it?
In thousands of different ways, and when you do community journalism you get a ringside seat.
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