I have been working a full month here in South Africa, so maybe it's time to update my illustrious readers. To get us up to speed, what am I doing here? Supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism -- and my savings -- I am spending several months in Johannesburg to report on the country's 6,000 abandoned mines and the people who work them. Or at least that was the thought.
I have since narrowed (I use that term exceedingly loosely) my work: What really happens at that juncture between a legal mining operation closing and that same mine becoming an abandoned pit in the ground? To accomplish this, I focused much of my first month on research surrounding the legislation, documentation, data, media coverage and history of mine closure. I did, however, visit abandoned mines, tailings dumps and zama zama operations to see what this historical problem looks like in the here and now. Expect much more of this and gathering of expert analysis in Month 2. Additionally, I am experimenting with the "one-man-band" idea touted by J-schools nestled away from the field, but my multimedia work has led to a new partnership between my writing and photography.
There has been the bad: Dealing with mounting stress in a foreign country, juggling dozens of contacts with dozens of unique and subtle agendas, getting mugged, pitching and receiving offers that are much worse than a "no." Oh, the publications that would love my work but just wouldn't love to really pay for it....
....In preparing for this trip, I sought the advice of numerous professional freelancers. How do you do it? I asked The overwhelming frontrunner among answers: Marry someone with health insurance. The second response: Don't calculate your hourly. (I started to do just that until I realized the legitimacy of that advice. Really puts the whole minimum wage should be a living wage debate in a new light...) But I digress.
And there has also been the good: The first sale of an investigative series (to a large Johannesburg paper), the second sale following close behind (to an awesome environmental publication), the immense generosity of some academics with little to gain by their assistance and the ever-present support from certain journalists even as we are ostensible competitors.
Potentially most interesting is the surprisingly unorthodox -- yet surprisingly useful -- partnership I have built with a research group in the University of the Witwatersrand...but more on that in another post.
As for now, I continue to juggle several investigations in several countries -- side note: I added a story in Malawi to my trip, but again, more on that later --, a potential museum exhibit, pitching (always pitching) and daily reporting. Thanks for sticking with my project this past month and much more to come soon.