When offered a chance to report from Afghanistan, Gwen Florio found out what resources she would need and volunteered.
The Denver Post’s Florio spoke with CSU students and staff Thursday about her experiences as an overseas reporter since September 11.
Florio, a reporter for 26 years, has spent five months out of the last year overseas. She has traveled to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Florio said she readily volunteered when the opportunity arose.
“You would never see (those places) any other way – and they’re paying you,” she said.
Florio dealt with obstacles ranging from not speaking the native language to being a woman. Reporters hired interpreters, often at a rate of $100-$200 per day, to help them communicate with sources. Interpreters had varied English skills, often making it difficult for Florio to get the information she needed.
“Some English was so poor that I had to dumb down my questions,” Florio said. “But [some] had access to more people.” On the other hand, those interpreters with better English skills often had ulterior motives, like getting their own political views heard.
Florio found many advantages and disadvantages to being a woman overseas. Problems usually arose fromh men not wanting to talk to her.
“They don’t particularly respect you,” Florio said. She was careful to be considerate of the culture and dressed in traditional attire as often as possible.
At the same time, Florio was able to gain access into many areas where male reporters would not have been allowed. She was able to talk with the native women and was often invited into their homes.
“They added a lot of breadth to my stories,” she said. “I got a real flavor for the culture.” Florio added that women don’t see themselves as oppressed like many Americans see them.
“We had to be careful about imposing our standards on them.”
Florio also got a feeling for how people in Afghanistan feel about American involvement in their country. Many still sympathize with the Taliban and are angry at America. Others are appreciative for the newfound freedoms enjoyed after the departure of the Taliban. Either way, Florio said, they keep quiet about their support.
Florio never felt personally threatened while she was overseas, but in Afghanistan she was often nervous for her safety.
“So many journalists were killed while we were there,” she said. “You were always uneasy because you never know what will happen.”
Malik Boumati, a reporter with La Tribune, a newspaper in Algeria, accompanied Florio to Fort Collins. He is visiting the United States for 10 weeks with a program called Freedom House, which allows media and government employees in developing countries to work side-by-side with American institutions. His first story will be with the Denver Post and then he will transfer to Washington, D.C.
Boumati is overwhelmed by the freedom that American journalists experience.
“Journalists here have all that they need to do their job,” he said. He spoke of dangers similar to those Florio mentioned about being a reporter overseas.
“It’s dangerous to be Algerian in Algeria,” Boumati said.
-Edited Colleen Buhrer and Shandra Jordan and Becky Waddingham