Yes, I’m going to Sri Lanka. My flight is less than a month away so I figured it was time to start blogging about my preparations.
In mid-September, I was contacted by the State Department with a request to go teach multimedia and freedom of the press in Sri Lanka for a week in December. I pretty much jumped at the opportunity.
The request came roughly a year after a request to go teach in Kazakhstan. I had to turn down that opportunity because of scheduling issues but the timing worked out on this opportunity. I’m flying out on Dec. 10 — the day after the semester ends (I’ll be grading many of my final projects on the plane:)
I’m going to spend a week lecturing and conducting seminars focused on Web journalism, freedom of the press and investigative journalism and then my wife and I (she’ll be joining me during the week) will spend a couple of days doing the tourist thing, but mostly lying around the beach.
When I was first contacted about the trip, one thought came to mind — the 2004 tsunami. I was working at The Washington Post’s Web site at the time and was working a newsdesk shift the day the tsunami hit South Asia. Many western-based news organizations (including The Post) were slow to respond during the early morning hours when reports first started to arrive. Holiday weeks are usually times of low staffing and many news organizations were slow to understand the scale of the disaster.
Yet, The Post caught up quickly. And, the disaster actually provided one of those transitional moments for a news organization that at the time was struggling to find ways to merge its online and print operations.
By pure happenstance, Michael Dobbs, one of The Post’s foreign correspondents at the time, was vacationing on a small island off the coast of Sri Lanka. Unlike many of the national and local reporters at The Post, Dobbs did not view the web operation as a threat to his work. After all, the daily version landed at his doorstep via electronic means ever day. While many of the local and national reporters saw The Post in terms of a “print-first” mentality, many of the international
reporters correspondents did not. Print deadlines were fairly artificial for foreign correspondents, something that those of us working for the Web operation saw fairly regularly with the coverage of the Iraq ground war.
So when Dobbs found himself literally in the middle of the tsunami, he first called the newdesk at the Web site (at the time, The Post’s Web operation was run out of a newsroom in Arlington, Va. while the newspaper operation existed in downtown Washington, D.C.) and filed a first-hand account over his cell phone. Kenisha Malcolm, one of my colleagues at the time, captured his report and filed an audio report with his eyewitness account.
I remember listening to that audio report and just being wowed. As Dobbs recounts, “something was very wrong with the sea.” Sometimes the simplest descriptions are the best.
When my wife and I were looking at places to stay, we came across the Weligama that Dobbs wrote about. I’m hoping to see as much as the area as possible in 12 days and will try to capture through words and images how Sri Lankans are coping, six years after the tragedy.
More to come….