Keep a low profile  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Letters
From AJR,   December/January 2010

Keep a low profile   

I read with great interest Sherry Ricchiardi's story "Assignment AfPak." As a traveler and blogger (jos-travel-blog/, I have been in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan recently and certainly can echo the Washington Post reporter's advice to keep as low a profile as possible.

Among the places I visited in Afghanistan this past August was the Minaret of Djam, which meant a journey through Central Afghanistan via minibus with stays at local "chaikhanas" (teahouses) in areas where Westerners were a curiosity. At times, there was a definite feeling of wariness from the locals, although the kids cheerfully handed me election material. And the election was a big thing in the villages, with posters of various candidates, including some women, plastered on walls throughout.

I could only wish some of those I observed riding around Kabul in their Land Cruisers (oh, would that I could have the Toyota franchise for Afghanistan and/or the Middle East!) could/would get out and travel more freely and get a feel for the countryside. But getting The Big Story can jeopardize not only oneself but others who come to the rescue.

Interestingly, I didn't see a lot of media people on the streets of Old Town Kabul on Election Day, other than a couple of freelancers racing down the street where they'd heard of possible gunfire, one of them busily trying to cleanse his finger from the ink proving that he had voted.

This is really a plea for reporters--and many moons ago I trained as a journalist--to carefully look behind the smoke and mirrors, for we as readers rely on their work. I know the adrenaline rush one can get when it looks like something extraordinary is about to happen, but it is necessary to get beyond that, and do the job of giving the public as accurate information as you can--without making yourself the story.

Jo Rawlins Gilbert

Menlo Park, California



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