Arts journalism in Zimbabwe
American arts journalists complain a lot, and with reason: lost jobs, declining circulation, philistine editors desperately trying to redefine the arts-journalism trade, almost invariably in a downwards direction.
But what about getting killed? I recently was forwarded two open letters from (white) citizens of Zimbabwe, describing the destitution and terror that Robert Mugabe has unleashed on his land in his naked effort to hold onto power. Houses are burned, people (black or white) are randomly killed, all by "Mugabe's thugs." There is little food, only vaguely intermittent electricity, and a prevailing sense of helplessness about a wider world practically indifferent even as it mouths platitudes.
In political journalism, that has meant a number of New York Times stories from reporters in that country that have run without bylines. Counter to normal Times policy, this practice has been condoned because were the reporters to sign their names, they almost surely would never write another story.
Politics is politics; the arts are the innocent arts, right? Wrong. Recently the Observer in London ran a story about an arts festival in Harare, the capital. The festival apparently had an anti-Mugabe theme, but was well attended by people not so much interested in politics as an escape from politics. Still, the last sentence of the report read: "The writer asked to remain anonymous."
So the next time you're forced into a buyout or taxed with new and unwelcome duties or struggling to pay the rent by writing on line, remember: you could be dead.