More than 800 journalists and editors from throughout the world gathered June 14-16 at Columbia for the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) Eighth Annual Convention. At a special awards banquet, the group paid tribute to Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and murdered this past spring in Karachi, Pakistan, while working on a story about the Islamic militant underground. A book of Pearl's writings, "At Home in the World," was also launched during the conference with a portion of the sales going to the Daniel Pearl Foundation, an organization that promotes cross-cultural understanding through journalism, music and innovative communication.
The three-day event included a variety of workshops and panel discussions for print, radio and broadcast journalists, editors and recruiters and covered issues such as medical and science reporting, September 11, American media coverage of South Asia, and nontraditional beats. Several screenings of documentary films by and about South Asians were shown in conjunction with the workshops.
SAJA leaders said the conference helped promote discussion and coverage of South Asia while simultaneously encouraging South Asian journalists in the field. Many came to the gathering tired and challenged from a difficult year.
"September 11 raised the visibility of South Asian journalists in a way we've never experienced before," said Jyoti Thottam, SAJA president and business reporter at Time magazine. "It's been a year where people in newsrooms have looked to South Asian journalists for help. But the recession -- with its newsroom cutbacks -- has affected the profession at the same time hate crimes [toward South Asians] have increased. We're dealing with these issues all the time."
Barbara Crossette, former South Asia bureau chief for the New York Times, and Sebastian Junger, author of "The Perfect Storm" and ABC News reporter in Afghanistan, addressed the journalists at its plenary sessions. Crossette -- who spent more than 20 years covering South Asia --- said the perception of the U.S. media is that few care about South Asia but called for more coverage and a fuller perspective on issues and stories.
SAJA also honored several colleagues with its annual awards. Steve Coll, managing editor of The Washington Post and former South Asia bureau chief of the Post, received the SAJA Journalism Leader Award in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the field of journalism. Mohamad Bazzi of Newsday received the first Daniel Pearl Award for an outstanding story on South Asia for his series of reports from Pakistan about topics ranging from gunsmiths whose sales were hurt by the weapons crackdown, to the use of the Internet by Afghan refugees to keep in touch with families, to key news developments in the war in Afghanistan. The award recognizes a reporter whose "journalism echoes the spirit and high standards of Pearl's work." Coincidentally, Bazzi, who is based in New York, traveled to Pakistan to cover the investigation of Pearl's kidnapping earlier this year.
This year's contest received more than 250 entries from more than 100 media outlets for work executed in 2001. The entries reflected the higher visibility of South Asians in the United States and the increased attention paid to the subcontinent, in large part because of the aftermath of September 11, the royal killings in Nepal and the earthquake in Gujarat, India.
"The wide range of media outlets that sent in entries shows the strong interest in upholding standards in foreign coverage and in reporting by minority journalists," said Sreenath Sreenivasan, administrator of the awards and a professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.