Category Archives: Journalism

On Austin Tice, Syria, and Risks Freelancers Take

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Though it was published back in October, I only yesterday read this in-depth Texas Monthly story by Sonia Smith on Austin Tice.

Tice, a former Marine and budding freelance photojournalist, disappeared in Syria in 2012.

There has been little information available publicly since then about his fate, aside from a haunting video posted online after his apparent capture.

After reading the story, I came across some recent reports from earlier this month in which his parents say the Obama administration has told them they believe their son is alive.

Of course, it is unclear what will happen now with President-Elect Trump taking office.

The Texas Monthly story serves as a reminder of:

  • Just how violent and long-running the Syria conflict has been
  • The difficulty news organizations have had reporting on the situation, since journalists have specifically been targeted
  • In Tice’s case, the risks that reporters have taken to cover the war — particularly freelancers, who may have little training and organizational support, and may be especially motivated to take risks in order to make a name for themselves.

    For example, in the story, several fellow reporters say they cautioned the clearly brave Tice to be more cautious in his reporting, to not venture into especially dangerous areas, and not to post on social media about this whereabouts.

Amazon Pulls Indian-Flag Doormats as New Delhi Threatens Punishment

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That’s the subject of my story yesterday, which begins:

Amazon.com Inc. pulled doormats emblazoned with the Indian flag from its Canadian website after the South Asian nation’s foreign minister threatened to oust the Seattle company’s employees.

“This is unacceptable,” Sushma Swaraj, India’s foreign minister, wrote on Twitter Wednesday in response to a posting from a user showing an image of the doormats for sale.

Ms. Swaraj, who has 7 million followers on the platform, called on Amazon to remove the “insulting” products and threatened to rescind visas for Amazon’s foreign staff in India if action wasn’t taken.

How Uber’s Racing to Add Drivers Here in India

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That’s the subject of my latest story, out Thursday, which begins:

NEW DELHI—How do you train a million new Uber drivers in a country where most people have never driven a car, tapped on a smartphone or even used an online map?

Uber Technologies Inc. faces that daunting task as it tries to avoid its fate in China, where it decided this year to sell its business to homegrown champion Didi Chuxing Technology Co.

The $68 billion San Francisco startup has plenty of cash and cutting-edge technology to bring to its battle in India. Also, the country hasn’t thrown up the kind of regulatory hurdles that have hindered Uber’s growth in other regions. So the company’s ability to find and teach new drivers could decide whether Uber can dominate this fast-growing market.

Click through for a video, narrated by yours truly.

I also wrote a sidebar, “5 Ways Uber Is Tweaking Its Strategy in India.

Delhi Snapshot: Think Your TV Job is Tough?


Spare a thought for this local reporter I saw doing a (rather crowded) live shot the other day. I count more than 15 people, not counting the journalist, in the frame. 

That cannot have been been easy, but she seemed totally unflustered. 

By Me Yesterday: What Trump Said About Working Visas to the U.S.

The story begins:

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Monday said his administration will scrutinize what he called “abuses” of visas amid speculation that he intends to restrict the flow of skilled workers into his country.

In a two-minute video posted on YouTube, Mr. Trump for the first time since the Nov. 8 election articulated to the public what he plans to do during his first 100 days in office.

“On immigration,” Mr. Trump said, “I will direct the Department of Labor to investigate all abuses of visa programs that undercut the American worker.”

He also said he would take action on trade, energy policies and more.

My previous stories on Trump and immigration are here and here.

By Me on Friday: How Amazon Has Taken India by Storm

The story begins:

NEW DELHI– Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos, perturbed by his company’s failure to capture much of the massive Chinese market, had a pointed message for executives in India during a visit in 2014: Don’t let that happen here.

Do what it takes to succeed and don’t worry about the cost, Mr. Bezos said, according to a person who was present.

Amazon, which dominates online selling in the U.S. but so far has gained little traction in developing countries, has since invested billions of dollars to build a logistics network spanning India to reel in shoppers.

The result: the company rapidly became India’s No. 2 e-commerce player and moved within striking distance of local rival Flipkart Internet Pvt., according to some estimates. Indeed, Mr. Bezos last month declared Amazon was on top in a market it largely had ignored until recent years, though he didn’t say by which measure.

“We are winning in India,” Mr. Bezos said at a conference in San Francisco, arguing that Amazon has pulled past Flipkart to become “the leader in India now.”

Amazon’s attempts to push into developing markets—marked by difficult logistics and significant cultural differences in shoppers’ expectations—reflect the e-commerce giant’s search for new routes to growth as it saturates the U.S. market. Countries such as China and India promise rapidly growing populations with steep rates of online shopping adoption as technology becomes more accessible.

Click through for a video, narrated by yours truly.

By Me on Thursday: H-1B Skilled-Worker Visas and Donald Trump

The story, which seems to have gotten a lot of attention online (it’s been shared widely on Facebook and has attracted 49 comments on The WSJ site so far), begins:

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will likely crack down on the use of skilled-worker visas issued to Indian outsourcing firms, said a leading anti-immigration campaigner.

Mr. Trump is still picking his cabinet, and how his policies will evolve is hard to guess, but he was elected pledging to restrict immigration. That means the tens of thousands of mostly Indian migrants entering America on high-skilled worker, or H-1B, visas could become a target for tougher vetting, said Roy Beck, president of Arlington, Va.-based NumbersUSA, which advocates for limited immigration.

“It would be very surprising if we don’t see the rules around H-1Bs really tighten,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Beck said his organization provided information and analysis to Mr. Trump and a handful of other candidates during the campaign, though the group does not support any individual candidate and does not currently work with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump’s presidential-transition media team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

During his campaign, Mr. Trump emphasized tightening immigration and criticized companies that ship jobs overseas to countries like India and China.

Click through to read the rest.

Exclusive By Me Yesterday: Facebook Messenger Hires Anand Chandrasekaran

The story begins:

NEW DELHI— Facebook Inc. is hiring a high-profile technology executive with expertise in Silicon Valley and India to help develop strategies for its Messenger app, an increasingly important platform for the social-media company.

Anand Chandrasekaran, a former senior executive at Yahoo Inc., will assume a global leadership role working on strategies and partnerships for Facebook’s billion-user-strong texting service, said people familiar with the situation.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Mr. Chandrasekaran would be based in the U.S. or India.

An announcement could be made as soon as Tuesday, one of the people said.

A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed the hire, but didn’t add anything further.

After working at Yahoo, Mr. Chandrasekaran served as chief product officer at Bharti Airtel Ltd., India’s largest cellular company, where he launched Airtel’s mobile application and a popular music-streaming app.

Last year, he joined New Delhi-based Snapdeal, one of India’s major e-commerce startups, as chief product officer. He departed the company in recent months.

With global users increasingly flocking to messaging platforms such as Facebook’s own WhatsApp and Chinese internet company Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat, the Menlo Park, Calif., company is eager to transform Messenger into a hub for activities such as e-commerce.

In April, Facebook emphasized its focus on the app at its annual F8 conference in San Francisco, showing developers how to create so-called chatbots for the service. These automated services can interact with consumers in real time to answer questions about the prices of goods, for example.