What makes for the best radio reporting on global health and development? We can credit some hippies in Maine.
At least, that’s what led to Jason Beaubien, NPR’s global health and development correspondent. Beaubien grew up way off the grid in rural Maine, raised by hippie parents who only had a radio for keeping up with the outside world. “We didn’t have (grid-based) electricity when we lived out in our log cabin … but we did have radio.” Everything Beaubien learned about the rest of the world came to him through radio, through his ears and his imagination, an experience that has clearly helped make him one of the most compelling audio story-tellers out there today.
Beaubien started reporting for NPR more than a decade ago in sub-Saharan Africa, beginning with a coup attempt in Ivory Coast (aka Côte d’Ivoire). Humanosphere’s founding editor Tom Paulson happened to be in Ivory Coast at around the same time, reporting for the dearly departed Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper on the early days of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation‘s revolutionary investment that eventually, massively, expanded child immunizations in poor countries.
Tom was doing typical ‘parachute’ journalism – flying in for a story and, when the going got too wacky, flying out. Beaubien stayed put in Africa, enduring dangerous situations and harsh conditions to tell the many broader political, economic and social stories. He later went on to Mexico to report on Latin America, including the drug war (which is often deadly dangerous for journalists). On our podcast, he tells us a few tales about being a foreign correspondent and why he thinks covering the fight against poverty was an obvious next step for him.
“In covering these issues, what just jumps out at you is the incredible inequality,” Beaubien said. To a great extent, he said, the conflicts and troubles he reported on for NPR are often rooted in poverty and inequality. He sees his new assignment, which may not sound as exciting as being a war correspondent, as moving from reporting mostly about what is happening to why it is happening – and what we can do about it.
It’s a great conversation. And as usual, before Tom and Jason compare notes on the poverty journalism front, we discuss a few of this week’s top news items. Tom Murphy noted that the campaign to rid the world of polio has again suffered a violent setback with more attacks on health workers in Pakistan. We also discuss Tom’s (the Paulson one) article describing how Seattle scientists are world leaders in a new approach to vaccine research and discovery.