Yemen: The Failure of Expat Journalists


(Sana’a Cityscape)

In the recent post at titled Are you sure there are no more journalists in Yemen? The author provides phenomenal commentary on the plight that expat journalists in Yemen deal with.

I particularly like these parts:

[W]hile it’s admirable that some journalists leave the luxuries of their homes to work in less comfortable societies, it is important to remember that this is entirely their choice, and they do get something in return.

Once someone lives in “dangerous” Yemen, he/she is automatically given the “brave” award.

[P]lease don’t make us feel like you are doing us a favor by being here. Please give us the respect and spare us the brave altruistic hero persona. It is not a favor you are bestowing on us to be living here.

While in Yemen from August 2013 to January 2014, I was friends with a number of journalists and those who worked in the journalism field. I also extensively followed the reports coming out of Yemen and international reports regarding Yemen from outside of Yemen. These associates of mine never knew as a matter of fact the level that I followed their work, the fact that I had followed journalists in Yemen since 2011 because of personal connections (two of my ex-girlfriends were friends with Laura Kasinof) nor were they aware as a matter of fact of who I was – professionally. This let me keep my finger on the pulse of the small closed clique of expat journalists in Yemen over the course of years since 2011; while simultaneously remaining a fly-on-the-wall, if you will. This provided me with a good amount of insight into the social circles and written work.

What particularly always bothered me while I read the works coming from expat journalists was the fact that none of these journalists seemed to have much expertise in the field they were reporting – International Security, Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, Counterterrorism, Stability Operations, etc. This led to the bulk of the work seemingly being regurgitated hyperbole and expat “subject matter expert” commentary. However, just being on the ground in Yemen does not make you a subject matter expert of these affairs.


(Fresh Printing, Yemen Times)

While I greatly respected those that I knew on a personal level, and greatly admired the risks of those who worked in unstable regions, I often questioned to myself whether these people were the right people for the job. Working in a place like Yemen was a sure way to go from unknown to global overnight due to the sheer lack of Western journalists available in Yemen. I understand from a professional growth perspective why this would be such a critical move for budding writers, however the fact that their words often went unquestioned due to their geographical location always struck me as dangerous. It seemed to me there was a near consensus between the reporting that left all reporting coming out of Yemen, to be synchronized monotonous reporting. One could summarize the opinions as “Drones are not the solution, Hadi is not the solution, Saleh is not the solution, America is not the solution, the NDC is not the solution”

I cannot recall one writer who supported any policy from anyone. Even given that this is accurate, never did I see a solution provided by these writers – and by solution I mean something with more specificity than just saying cop out lines such as “we need a comprehensive policy” or “Drones are not the answer to poverty”. These are not solutions. These are symptoms of people who have not worked in stability and security operations before and have never had to develop actual solutions to complex problems.

Despite Iona Craig’s declaration that there are no more journalists in Yemen (and yes we know you meant journalists with journalist visas) there are still several unofficial reporters in Yemen. More so, I hope this reset of the voice coming from Yemen provides space for local journalists (actually Yemeni) and budding unofficial journalists to step up and provide a fresh look at Yemen to include actual solutions. For those who have left Yemen, perhaps now your work will be viewed in the construct of integrity and not accepted simply because you are able to get invites to chew khat with wasta-full Sanaanis.

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