Why I write for New Internationalist
It's difficult to write about the under-reported when editors want 'sexy' subjects, writes Karlos Zurutuza.
I knew Rojava was a great story since I first set foot in northern Syria. However, I'd soon realize it was too early for the world to know about the plight of the Syrian Kurds. It was the spring of 2008.
'Are there really Kurds in Syria?' an editor who pretended to be a knowledgeable person on the Middle East blurted over the phone. 'Thanks for this Karlos, but I'll give it a miss,' he added. Many others like him would follow suit.
That first batch of stories – which included an interview with Salih Muslim, the very man who'd emerge as the leader of the Syrian Kurds four years later – was finally published by a humble Basque newspaper I still have the privilege to work with.
I went back to northern Syria just after the Kurds took over their territory, in the summer of 2012. The majority of my colleagues were flocking to either Homs or Aleppo, so I got used to hearing questions like: 'What's the story there, Karlos?' But a great deal of editors would still stick to the regular answer: 'I'll give it a miss.' Okay, 2012 was still too early. We had to wait until the outbreak of the Islamic State in 2014 to finally discover the Syrian Kurds, their unique revolution, and their fierce stance against Islamic extremism. Colleagues wanted contacts, and Rojava didn't look that far fetched for editors. The Syrian Kurds were finally 'sexy'.
As a freelance journalist I've always had this taste for the under-reported. I love the feeling of following stories in long forgotten areas, usually across the vast strip of land between occupied Western Sahara and Eastern Balochistan. The main disadvantages are that there are no fellow colleagues to share a beer with at the end of the day, and the average editor tries to be not too rough when turning down yet another impossible pitch by 'that eccentric guy.'
Luckily enough, there are also those who genuinely care about the under-reported, not just what’s trending on Twitter. I can count them with the fingers on just one hand, but it's only thanks to them that I've managed to survive as an 'off the radar' journalist for more than a decade. I knew that the New Internationalist would add to that exclusive list when I got an almost instant reply for a story on the Libyan Amazigh people. While I'm writing these lines, the Baloch are running a campaign on social media to remind the world that their land was annexed by Pakistan in March 1948. We did cover their 'black day', exactly one year ago.
It might be too early for the world to know about Nafusa – the main Amazigh stronghold in Libya – or the long forgotten conflict in Balochistan. But for the New Internationalist, it's already news.
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