5 Badass Journalists You Should Know About
Reeyot Alemu, Ethiopia
Working in hostile environments is part-and-parcel of the journalist gig, but Reeyot Alemu faces hostility everyday. The 32-year old Ethiopian journalist and English teacher was arrested and jailed in June 2011 without charges after writing an extremely critical piece on the ruling political party. For years, Alemu maintained a political column in the Ethiopian newspaper Feteh, disparaging the government's policies and the party's violations of human rights. A week after her arrest, she was charged under a vague anti-terrorism law and sentenced with 14 years in prison. And that hasn't stopped her—Alemu has refused clemency in exchange for information on her fellow journalists and continues to write letters from prison. When she was awarded the International Women's Media Foundation's "Courage in Journalism" award last year in absentia, she sent a letter of acceptance. "When I became politically aware, I understood that being a supporter or member of the ruling party is a prerequisite to living safely and to get a job," she wrote. "I knew I would pay the price for my courage and was willing to pay the price."
Lynsey Addario, U.S.
Two years ago, in the midst of the Libyan civil war, New York Times photojournalist and three other colleagues—Anthony Shadid, who died in Syria, Stephen Farrell and Tyler Hicks—were captured by Gaddafi loyalists for six days. They were all subject to physical abuse and brutality, but it was Addario who emerged from the experience to speak candidly about the sexual aggression she experienced at the hands of the soldiers. "I will cover another war. I’m sure I will. It’s what I do," she wrote on the The New York Times Lens Blog. "It’s important to show people what’s happening. We have a unique access to what unfolds on the ground that helps our policymakers decide how to treat certain issues." Addario's definitely no stranger to conflict zones: she's also worked in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Darfur. Her photos from Waziristan were part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning package in 2009 and she won the Getty Images Grant in 2008 for Editorial Photography for her images from Darfur.
Jose Antonio Vargas, U.S./Philippines
Vargas became notorious in 2001 when he wrote an essay for The New York Times Magazine in which he divulged his status as an undocumented immigrant and admitted to using fake documents to obtain a Social Security Number. He wrote, "[Being an undocumented immigrant] means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me." Vargas has since become a vocal advocate for the rights of undocumented immigrants, founding the nonprofit "Define American" to foster dialogue about what it means to be American. In February 2012, he gave an emotional testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about how it felt to be called an "illegal." He's written for numerous publications, including the Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronical and The Washington Post, where he was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting.
Shahla Sherkat, Iran
Iranian journalist Shahla Sherkat founded Zanan magazine in 1992 to fill what she saw as a void in mainstream Iranian journalism of serious coverage of women's issues. Since then, the magazine has become the premier journal on women's rights and stories, giving voice to feminist activists, scholars and reformists. They've covered domestic abuse, prostitution, plastic surgery, and all manner of subjects considered taboo or risque. Consequently, the magazine and Sherkat have become targets of Iranian fundamentalists who accuse them of being anti-government. In the '90s, her offices were attacked by extremists and her efforts to have them persecuted failed. In 2001, she was fined and sentenced to prison for "anti-Islamic" activities during a conference on political reform. After appealing, her prison sentence was lifted. Zanan was shut down in 2008 by Ahmadinejad's government. Officials said it was a "threat to the psychological security of the society."
The Staff of Nanfang Zhoumo, China
Government censorship is a problem in the People's Republic of China and the staff of reformist weekly Nanfung Zhouma have had enough. After the propaganda office forced the weekly to run an editorial glorifying the Communist Party in lieu of an original article appealing for a consitutional government in January 2012, outraged journalists protested at Nanfung Zhouma's headquarters and on social media, posting an open letter calling for the propaganda office head's resignation. Chinese authorities attempted to scrub any mention of the infamous editorial, but those efforts have proved unsuccessful. The original editorial was published to the micro-blogging site Weibo and continues to spread, rallying support for Nanfung Zhouma's journalists. In the past year, more than 1,000 articles published in the weekly were censored totally or partially and the editors have threatened to release all of them if the rampant censorship by the propoganda office persists.