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On the Woes of not Being Google-able

August 18, 2010

On May 28, 1987 a teenage West German named Matthias Rust flew his dinky little propeller plane not only into Russia, but right onto the Red Square. The sheer gutsiness of it was pretty astounding, and one of those huge news stories that somehow got slept on two decades later. All the same, it was a symbol of peace and brotherhood between East and West. And good Mr. Rust went on to a whole lot of interesting things. Such as stabbing a girl he had a crush on, stealing cashmere sweaters, and becoming a professional poker player. Good guy.

I won’t venture to speak with my co-worker here, but I will say what I think. I’d venture to say that Jake Hess, the American who is on his way to deportation for his work in Kurdistan (allegedly with the PKK), has read about Matthias Rust. He’s clearly trying to go for a sort of stand. Which is cool. I love making political stands. But here’s some advice, from a fellow blue-passport-ci: if you’re about to be deported back to the states, don’t burn any bridges there. If you’re a journalist, saying things like the following may not be too bright:

“the U.S. is an imperialist country and I disagree with U.S. policy towards Turkey and the Kurds.

As a political statement, its at least an opinion. Surely disagreeable to many, but not on the same level as “We must welcome and embrace our alien overlords.” My personal quibble, though, is that he’s getting deported – and not locked away in jail or whatever else – solely because of that imperialist country. I do not mean that as a “show respect to the USA! Love it or leave it!” statement, far from it. I’m saying it as one journalism neophyte to another. In the age of Google, do not make incendiary statements before you are ready to do so.

This isn’t to be whitewashed and bland. One of my favorite newssources is the unhinged & insane Exiled. But its possible to be a young and passionate journalist without burning bridges. Justin Vela did a good job covering this and showing compassion for young Jake. Wladimir van Wilgenburg is doing great, great, stuff from that little section of our world. Neither of them had a gospel singer to emerge from the shadow of, but both of them write well.

Here at Istanbul Alti, we are all for passion in our reporting, even to the point of being a bit Gonzo. But when reporting on politically-sensitive issues, it is important to show, not tell, your story. There’s no need to use inflammatory language if your facts are inflammatory. This isn’t ’90s Russia, unfortunately, and people are reading to make sure you don’t just say stuff.

I wholeheartedly wish Mr. Hess the best of luck on his career, whether he sticks to journalism, becomes one of those world-traveling English teachers, or goes into mechanical engineering or whatever. He genuinely seems like an interesting guy and someone I’d buy a drink if I ever crossed his path. But he’s managed to get into the sad-panda database of both Turkey and the US. All in the name of making a name and making peace. As someone who admittedly would also like both, there’s cleverer ways to do it.

Fortune may favor the bold, but there’s nothing to braving the machine-gun nests of bureaucracy and law. If you’re going to get politically sensitive, I highly recommend having a gameplan behind it. The far-smarter-than-I Carpetblogger heartily agrees. So lets learn a lesson from this: when under foreign jurisdictions, be well aware of what pisses said jurisdictions off. And when returning to the +1, remember that as an English teacher abroad, you’re just another Mandarin in the Fake Empire.

And let us remember the greatest takeaway from this. Tell girls you’re a journalist, not authorities. If you can’t tell people what you do for work, they can’t judge you!

EDIT ADDITION: Frederike Geerdink is a real journalist and a better writer than me. I don’t agree with her 100%, but I do agree enough. She’s worth being read.

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