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Bhutto Killing Mobilizes SAJA

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Journalists' Blog Activated After News from Pakistan

The South Asian Journalists Association moved quickly Thursday morning at news of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, opposition leader and former Pakistani prime minister.




One of its board members, Aseem Chhabra, saw the news on CNN's "American Morning," and e-mailed SAJA founder Sree Sreenivasan, who is on vacation in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains but has access to the SAJA Web site, as one of four who blogs regularly on it.

A timeline on the site begins at 8:10 a.m. and is followed by a list of freelancers in Pakistan who are available to news organizations.

At 9:01 a.m., the site received its first reader comment, from Dhaka, Bangladesh:

"The news started travelling on Dhaka cell phone SMS networks about 30 minutes ago. Everyone is totally stunned," wrote Naeem Mohaimen. SMS, or "short message service," in the United States is called "text messaging."

"SAJA is such a small organization in may ways, we can publish very quickly," Sreenivasan told Journal-isms. "It shows the power of the blogging format," one he recommends to other journalism organizations. SAJA has about 1,000 members, about 10 to 15 percent of Pakistani background.

As Griff Witte and Debbi Wilgoren reported Thursday morning on, "Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday at a political rally, two months after returning from exile to attempt a political comeback.

"Bhutto, 54, was shot at close range as she waved to supporters from the rooftop opening of a bulletproof car, witnesses said. Seconds later, a suicide bomber detonated explosives just behind Bhutto's car. The explosion killed at least 15 people, and injured many others.

"Also Thursday, at a different pre-election rally in this garrison city, a rooftop sniper opened fire on supporters of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif leaving four dead and at least five injured."

Another SAJA member, Kiran Khalid, who premiered a documentary on media censorship in Pakistan this month, "We Are Not Free: The Future of the Media in Pakistan," was interviewed on New York's public radio WNYC.

"It's hard to believe that somebody at a high level wasn't complicit" in the assassination because of the tight security, she told Journal-isms. The documentary is to be shown in journalism and law schools.

Chhabra was watching "American Morning" as a fan of co-host Kiran Chetry, who is South Asian. On the program, CNN's State Department's correspondent, Zane Verjee, is South Asian, as is reporter Ali Velshi. Though they are not Pakistani, "you could sense a sensibility" to South Asian pronunciations and culture, said Sreenivasan, who is also dean of students at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and tech reporter at New York's WNBC-TV.

SAJA's list of freelancers had been developed in 2003 and is not updated as often as the organization would like, Sreenivasan said. Yet when the tsunami hit South Asia in 2004, ABC News was able to find a Sri Lankan and put him on the air in 45 minutes.

Likewise, he said, Indian news organizations were able to locate freelancers in the United States when engineer Kalpana Chawla, who is South Asian, was among the seven crew members killed on Feb. 1, 2003, when the space shuttle Columbia broke up during re-entry.

Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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