YANGON, Myanmar — A group of 20 top, young journalists — 11 from Myanmar and 9 from the United States — set out on a series of journeys last month through a country undergoing dramatic change.
They formed five teams chosen for a highly competitive reporting fellowship which was put together as a partnership between GlobalPost and the New York City-based Open Hands Initiative.
One team set out to navigate the great capitals of Myanmar, also known as Burma.
They started at the ancient city of Bagan, looking at the politics of renovating sacred space; and then on to the colonial town of Mandalay to look at a rising Buddhist nationalism that seems to be taking root; and finally on to the surreal, empty modern capital of Naypyidaw.
Another team set out on the storied Burma Road which begins at the Chinese border in Muse and continues on down to Lashio and eventually to Mandalay.
In the Irrawaddy River Delta, another team set out by boat to check in on the Delta’s remote population as it marks the five-year anniversary of the devastating Cyclone Nargis.
On the calm waters of Inle Lake, a team of journalists looked at the impact of tourism and development and how it is changing a traditional way of life.
And, finally, one team of reporters explored in and around Yangon to find out what was really going on inside what might be one of the last great frontier economies in the world.
The journalists on these extraordinary journeys were brought together through a partnership between GlobalPost, The GroundTruth Project and the Open Hands Initiative.
With generous support from the Open Hands Initiative, the young journalists were provided resources to travel and work together on an extraordinary journey that focused on OHI’s spirit of “people to people diplomacy,” as Founder and Chairman Jay T. Snyder puts it.
Along the way, the young reporting fellows learned a lot about Burma and about each other. Veteran journalists in Southeast Asia, including VII Photo Agency’s Gary Knight, NPR’s Michael Sullivan, AsiaWorks’ Marc Laban, independent photographer Philip Blenkinsop and the AP’s Denis Gray as well as GlobalPost’s Kevin Grant and myself served as team leaders and instructors to the 20 reporting fellows.
We led them on the journeys, teaching the next generation of international correspondents the craft of photography, video, audio and writing.
The fellows produced an impressive body of work to be published Monday as a GlobalPost Special Report called “A Burmese Journey.” At the end of the fellowship, pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi delivered a stirring address to the journalists about the importance of a free press in a democracy.
She spoke on the need for journalism training and expanding freedom of expression in Burma.
“I was struck by what has been said about GlobalPost, that they are trying to promote the enduring qualities of great journalism That is, integrity, accuracy, independence and great storytelling,” she said.
“I think GlobalPost uses the word ‘old fashioned’ with regard to their ideals, their motto. I have to say I am old fashioned in the same way. … So what we would like are great journalists, but their greatness should be firmly rooted in integrity and the desire to make our world a better place to live in. That is a very old fashioned idea, but I don’t think this is an idea that will ever really go out of fashion. We need to make the world that we live in a better one.”
(Charles M. Sennott is the co-founder and Editor-at-Large of GlobalPost.)