Friday, January 20, 2012

Kaj: Money

Today we welcome a new name to the Journalism All-Star Team.

First, let's recap the 18 current members, in no particular order: Soledad O'Brien, Gwen Ifill, Christiane Amanpour, Louis Theroux, Matt Taibbi, Jeremy Schaap, Fareed Zakaria, Lisa and Laura Ling, Jon Stewart, Nate Silver, Mariana van Zeller, Sanjay Gupta, Bob Ley, Stephen Colbert, Andrew Sullivan, Anderson Cooper and Rachel Maddow.

Two of the All-Stars, Laura Ling and Mariana van Zeller, have logged time as members of Current's Vanguard team. van Zeller won a Peabody for a report she did for Vanguard, and when Laura was abducted by North Korea, it too was during filming of a Vanguard episode. Needless to say, the Vanguard team was not playing around.

Then came Keith Olbermann.

After leaving MSNBC, Olbermann arrived at Current last February. Not only was he to import his old show, Countdown, he was also named Chief News Officer of Current and given an equity stake in the network. Current quickly underwent a makeover to put Olbermann on the air as much as possible, and to bring in people friendly to Olbermann, chief among them Cenk Uygur (who also left MSNBC acrimoniously). By September, when the AV Club checked in to write an overview of the network, they found a lot of Olbermann and not a lot of much else, to the point where Current had nearly become the Keith Olbermann Network.

The Vanguard team was not among Olbermann's people. Last month, citing budget cuts, most of the team was laid off, G4TechTV-style, with the announcement that further episodes would be done by freelancers. van Zeller was among the cuts, though she's quickly been snapped up as a correspondent for National Geographic Explorer. Which tells you right there the caliber of reporting Current was kicking to the curb. Her first report, 'Guerilla Gold Rush', is unavailable online but will next air at 8 AM Central on Sunday morning on National Geographic.

Another of the cuts has been taken in by CNN, and his first report, 'Narco Wars', will air 11 hours later, at 7 PM Central Sunday night. This is our inductee, the third member of Team Vanguard to make the squad.

Welcome to the team, Kaj Larsen.

Reporting on the drug war from various fronts in the United States, Mexico and Central America is getting to be almost a rite of passage for the All-Stars. van Zeller got her Peabody from a report on Oxycontin trafficking, and she's also reported from a trafficking route along the Amazon and a favela in Rio de Janeiro. Both Laura and Lisa Ling have been to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, an epicenter of drug-related violence. Anderson Cooper reported on drug tunnels burrowed underneath the US/Mexico border. Sanjay Gupta attended a drug bust in Peru. Christiane Amanpour, Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow have said their piece as well, albeit from the desk, and Fareed Zakaria particpated in this debate over it.

On Sunday, it becomes Larsen's turn. Truthfully, Larsen probably should have been named to the team earlier. That's my fault for not doing so. I think what it was, was that I didn't want to go hog-wild and name the entire Vanguard crew to the team, for fear of devaluing the All-Star designation. The 1927 Yankees are widely considered the greatest baseball team of all time, but you wouldn't name starting catcher Pat Collins to the Hall of Fame. So I only took one or two from the group, and Laura and Mariana made the cut. In any case, I'm past that hang-up, and now Kaj joins them.

As usual when we name someone to the team, we post a clip of them at their best. For Kaj, it's a pair of Vanguard episodes done alongside Christof Putzel (Putzel and Adam Yamaguchi, the other two members of Vanguard's core group, have been retained by Current after the layoffs), in which they reported on Somalia. Somalia is notable for being the nation on Earth where journalists are seemingly more afraid to visit, due to the danger involved, than anywhere else on the planet. There may be countries that attract fewer journalists, but that's due to apathy. Somalia actively scares them away. There are some very courageous journalists out there who will look at Somalia and conclude that it's just not worth it.

Kaj- and Christof- went.

Twice. Kind of.

This is the original report, called 'Mogadishu Madness'. Christof is narrator in both; Kaj is helping with camerawork.

This is the second report, called 'Beach of Death', in which they reported from Yemen about refugees from Somalia.

As you can see, while Kaj is the one named today, Christof may well be joining him very, very soon; the reason he and Adam currently remain on the outside looking in is that, in the wake of Olbermann's effective takeover, the Vanguard team had to shift to more Olbermann-friendly topics. Kaj, now with CNN, no longer operates under that restriction. Christof and Adam, though, are still both very, very good, and who knows? Maybe the entire team will eventually make it in after all.

Smooth move, Olbermann.

UPDATE: Kaj has written back, accepting his induction. In doing so, he passed along three of his other pieces: a third piece from Somalia- his favorite- where he and Christof purchase an AK-47, a solo report on gun culture in America, "and of course, the waterboarding video."

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